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House considers compact to deal with waste disposal

April 29, 1996
By: LARA HEARNBURG
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - We know that it has to go somewhere, but we want that somewhere to be anywhere but our own backyards. And it's even worse when it's not just household garbage, it's radioactive waste.

Right now, Missouri's radioactive waste is being sent to South Carolina. But not for long. What's called "The Midwest Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact" will change the final destination for Missouri's waste.

The compact was created under federal law under which the states in various regions (seven in the Midwest) select central disposal sites for low-level radioactive wastes.

Every state in the compact will take a turn developing a facility, and storing the waste from all of the compact members. The original site was chosen based on the volume of radioactive waste generated.

If a state selected for the central dump refuses to accept the waste, that state is removed from the compact and must deal with its own waste on its own.

For the Midwest region's site, Michigan was picked by the region's states. But Michigan was reluctant to fulfill it's obligations. So, the compact's governing commission revoked Michigan's membership, and the number of participant states went down to six.

Then, Ohio received the honor of being the home of the first dump site.

Ohio hasn't rejected the idea, but is talking about a ten-year delay.

Roger Suppes, Ohio's commissioner for the compact said that Ohio has formed a new state agency to develop the proposed disposal site.

"When it became obvious that the state of Michigan had lost their will to move forward the commission had to do something. Although we (the state of Ohio) weren't expecting to do it, we felt it was the environmentally responsible thing to do," Suppes said.

So far, Ohio hasn't had many problems, but Suppes said that he thinks it is because it's so early in the development. He said it would be unrealistic to think that once a site is chosen, there wouldn't be any objections to a radioactive waste dump.

"When a dot goes up on the map there will be some controversy involved. But we hope to educate the people of Ohio to help them understand the benefits involved."

Suppes said that he expects Ohio's facility to be operating in about 10 years.

Legislation has been proposed in both Missouri's House and the Senate to approve Missouri's participation in the compact.

The Senate bill dealing with the compact has been approved by the Senate, and approved by the House Energy and Environment Committee.

Jess Garnett, D-West Plains, chairman of the committee, said that although it's not on the calender yet, he hopes to see the bill debated on the House floor next week.

"We need this bill," he said. "I think that we have time (left in the session) to get to it. It's a pretty noncontroversial bill."

Not everyone, though, thinks that the bill is noncontroversial.

Ken Midkiff, the program director for the Sierra Club, said that he has serious reservations about the compact.

"The concept of the compact came about in 1984, but there is still not a site operating. So, clearly there is a problem."

"We think that perhaps the whole issue should be re-examined instead of just tinkering with the edges."

"It's clear that people do not want this stuff near them. Then what do you do with it? The problem is, of course, that more and more is being created."

As a part of the compact, Missouri will eventually have to host a disposal site.

Tom Lange, a planner for Missouri's Natural Resources Department said that right now, he is not concerned about developing a site in Missouri.

"The earliest Missouri could be designated to develop a facility would be 40 years."

Garnett said that though he knows that the people of Missouri would have some objections to a site here, he still supports the compact.

"I wouldn't doubt that the people of Missouri would be concerned. But it (the bill) went sailing through the Senate and I think that only 3 out of 16 people in the House committee voted against it. I don't think that low-level radioactive waste is near as dangerous as people think."