Nuclear Waste Proposal Goes Up in Cloud of Political Wrangling

Times Staff Writer

A proposed nuclear waste compact between California and Arizona has fallen victim to Democratic attempts to dump low-level radioactive material in Republican territory.

Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), a key participant in the political wrangling, said Thursday that there was little chance this year that the Legislature would ratify an agreement with Arizona that would have the effect of keeping other states from dumping their low-level nuclear waste in California’s disposal sites.

“I don’t think we’ll do anything with it until January,” Peace said.

At issue is an attempt by Peace, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and other Democrats to make sure that a proposed nuclear waste dump lands in the overlapping San Bernardino districts of two Republican lawmakers, Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-Redlands) and Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora).

Looking ahead to next year’s elections, the Assembly Democrats are trying to keep the politically unpopular waste out of the district of Democratic Assemblyman Steve Clute of Riverside, who is considered vulnerable to a Republican challenge.


By itself, the bistate agreement for the disposal of radioactive waste is not controversial. Under a recent federal law, two states that enter into disposal compacts would not be required to accept low-level waste from any other state.

However, the deadline for approving the compacts is Jan. 1.

The federal law is an attempt to encourage states to dispose of their own low-level waste--radioactive material such as clothing, plastic gloves and medical supplies from nuclear industries, laboratories and hospitals.

California has been sending its low-level nuclear garbage to Washington and North Carolina. Soon, however, dumps in those states will be closed to California under the new federal system of bistate compacts.

Legislation to ratify the disposal pact with Arizona was carried by Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose) and approved by the Senate.

Over Alquist’s objections, Assembly Democrats amended the bill to require that a dump site for low-level waste be located in northeastern San Bernardino County.

Representatives from both houses, meeting in a joint conference committee, were unable to agree on a compromise earlier this week and afterward, Alquist lashed out at Assembly Democrats.

“I think it’s outrageously irresponsible for the Assembly Democrats to take the position that they have,” said Alquist, who earlier this month engaged in an angry shouting match with Peace.

“I just want to ratify a compact with the state of Arizona so we’re not left at the mercy of anybody who wants to dump in (California),” he said.

Peace, who has been the Democrats’ point man on the issue, denied there was any political motivation in seeking to put the dump site in the districts of the two Republicans.

“Our position is that we don’t intend to support a pact without knowing where we’re going to site it,” he said.

Peace said there is “absolutely no consequence whatsoever” in delaying the compact until next year, because Congress is likely to approve an extension of the Jan. 1 deadline.

Leonard, meanwhile, charged that the Assembly Democrats ignored environmental considerations when they chose his district as the site for the proposed dump.

“My district met the criteria of having a Republican assemblyman and a Republican senator,” Leonard said. “That’s important siting criteria, according to certain folks.”