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Bi-State Nuclear Waste Pact Urged : Peace Says California Should Take S. Dakota’s Materials

Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Steve Peace of Chula Vista, who earlier this year helped to block ratification of a bi-state compact with Arizona on disposal of low-level nuclear wastes, now says California should consider an agreement with South Dakota.

The San Diego County Democrat was appointed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco on Thursday to chair a study committee on the state’s alternatives for disposing of protective clothing, gloves and other contaminated items from nuclear industries and hospitals.

California disposes of 220,000 cubic feet of such radioactive materials annually at disposal sites in Washington and Nevada.

Peace said he has spoken with legislative leaders in South Dakota, where voters overwhelmingly rejected on Tuesday a possible bi-state compact with neighboring North Dakota. Peace said the South Dakota officials were interested in a possible agreement with California.

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Larry Thompson, an aide to Lars Herseth, Democratic leader in the South Dakota House, confirmed the state’s interest.

Thompson said South Dakota officials--including Herseth, a gubernatorial candidate--found the idea of a South Dakota-California agreement appealing because 83% of the state’s voters clearly signaled this week that they did not want the radioactive materials dumped in their state.

Federal rules governing the low-level waste disposal agreements do not require that states be adjoining, but rules virtually assure that the state generating the most waste will be the recipient of the materials.

To give large states incentive to enter such compacts, the 1980 federal law also mandates that disposal facilities in any state that has not entered a compact would have to accept materials from any other state.

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In an agreement with either Arizona or South Dakota, Peace said California would be the recipient state.

While Arizona would ship about 5,500 cubic feet of the material to a California disposal site annually, he said, South Dakota generates only 7 cubic feet--about two barrels--of material a year.

Low-level nuclear waste materials can be contaminated for up to 100 years, health officials say.

If radioactive wastes generated in South Dakota were to be disposed of in California, the materials would have to be transported at least 1,300 miles and, at a minimum, cross three states--Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

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“But you are talking about two of those 55-gallon drums,” said a Peace aide. “You could bring it in a Toyota pickup truck.”

Peace said he would use the new Assembly Select Committee on Low-Level Nuclear Waste to “explore California’s options with other states or break the impasse with Arizona.”

Before the legislative recess in September, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt threatened to explore agreements with other states unless the California Legislature, which has failed for three years to ratify the agreement, does not do so soon.

A bill by Sen Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose) would have ratified the Arizona agreement. But Peace and other Assembly Democrats fashioned an amendment that virtually assured that the disposal site would be in a Republican legislative district.

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In the final days before the recess, Peace and other Democrats boycotted a conference committee after the Deukmejian administration rejected a less-restrictive compromise that Peace said would have merely eliminated as possible disposal sites areas with high ground water tables, or other geological conditions, that would make a nuclear waste site unsafe.

Peace said Thursday the outcome of the South Dakota election, and a similar referendum in Maine, reaffirms his feeling that the Legislature should choose a site at the same time it ratifies an agreement.


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