A proposal by a Seattle-based company to build a nuclear waste storage facility in southern Colorado could resolve the plutonium waste crisis at the Energy Department's Rocky Flats, Colo., nuclear weapons plant. But it has stirred strong political and community opposition before its formal unveiling.
Energy Department officials, desperate to find a waste storage site and avert the threatened closing of the only plant producing plutonium triggers for the nation's nuclear arsenal, have confirmed that they are considering the unsolicited proposal submitted last month by Pacific Nuclear Services Inc.
Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, has set a 1,601-cubic-yard limit on radioactive waste stored at Rocky Flats, near Denver. That limit will be reached about March 1. Governors of six other states have spurned an appeal from Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins to accept some of the wastes for storage until a permanent repository near Carlsbad, N.M., is ready.
Romer does not want to see Rocky Flats shut down because thousands of jobs would be lost, but a spokesman said last week that he "does not like" the Pacific Nuclear proposal. "They want to build concrete buildings, which would indicate that it wouldn't be so temporary," the spokesman said. "The governor prefers a multistate solution."
Also opposing the proposal are a citizens' group in the county where the waste would be stored and Rep. Hank Brown, whose district includes the proposed site. Nuclear waste is a volatile political issue in Colorado, and Brown is expected to be the Republican nominee next year for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by the retiring Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.).
But the proposal may get at least lukewarm support from environmental groups, who would rather have the waste stored at an accessible site subject to state inspection than inside Rocky Flats "where you need 50 passes to get in and out," according to Melinda Kassen, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund in Denver.
Romer has said he would accept storage of the waste on another site in Brown's district--the Army's Pinon Canyon training base.