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6 Governors Urge Bush to Boost Funds for Nuclear Waste Cleanup

Times Staff Writer

Six Democratic governors, whose states contain many of the nation’s aging nuclear weapons facilities, appealed to President Bush on Thursday for a major increase in funds to clean up chemical and radioactive wastes left from 40 years of weapons production.

In a letter to Bush, they called the cleanup task a “national imperative” and said that in some locations leaking wastes and deteriorating production facilities have created “potentially catastrophic situations.”

In addition, three of the governors--from Ohio, Colorado and Idaho--told a Senate hearing that failure by the new Administration to put a high priority on refurbishing the weapons system’s 16 major plants in a dozen states and on opening a permanent waste disposal site would risk mounting public pressure to close the system down.

‘Have Done Our Part’

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“We’ve been good Americans, concerned about national security. We have done our part for 20 years,” Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. But, he said, “we’ve been lied to for the last time” about when the federal government would be ready to remove more than 2.4-million cubic feet of radioactive wastes from Idaho for permanent disposal.

Andrus, who served as Interior secretary in the Administration of former President Jimmy Carter, acted last October to block further shipments to Idaho of low- and medium-level radioactive wastes from the Energy Department’s Rocky Flats plant near Denver, which makes plutonium components for nuclear weapons.

“In 1973, I was promised that the waste (stored at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory) would be removed from Idaho by the end of the 1970s,” Andrus testified. “It was not. Then we were told it would be 1983. It was not. Then we were told October, 1988, and it was not.”

The delays resulted from continuing problems that the government has faced in opening an experimental disposal site in deep salt beds near Carlsbad, N.M. The Energy Department now says it hopes to begin using the Waste Isolation Pilot Project later this year.

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As a result of Idaho’s action, drums of radioactive wastes are piling up in seven special, armor-plated boxcars at the Rocky Flats plant, 16 miles from Denver. Colorado Gov. Roy Romer said he will allow no more than 1,600 cubic yards to accumulate, a limit that he expects will be reached in May.

“There’s a clock ticking on the national security of the country,” Romer warned the Senate hearing, chaired by Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), who has been a persistent critic of the Energy Department’s aging weapons plants.

“This (waste) problem is located right in the middle of a million and a half people,” Romer said, and he suggested that he would consider taking steps to stop work at the plant when the limit is reached in May.

Both Romer and Andrus, joined in the hearing by Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste, commended the Energy Department for what they called a new spirit of cooperation under former Secretary John S. Herrington in tackling problems of weapons plant safety and waste disposal. But they were unanimous in complaining that a 21-year, $81-billion restoration plan approved by the White House of former President Ronald Reagan last month emphasized weapons production over cleanup tasks.

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