Wide Use of Nuclear Dump to Be Barred


California and three other states, partners in a venture to dispose of low-radiation nuclear waste near Needles in the Mojave Desert, on Tuesday rejected requests from 14 other states and Washington, D.C., to join them in using the site.

Underscoring their resolve to keep the proposed Ward Valley dump site to themselves, representatives of the four-state compact also voted to send out letters to all 46 non-member states saying they will reject any further applications.

Scott Lewis, a spokesman for the Department of Health Services, said California had received a large number of requests from other states wanting to ship their low-level radioactive waste here because the desert site 25 miles west of Needles “is closest to completion” and because of the political sensitivities of approving new waste dumps.


Under the compact plan, the Ward Valley site, tentatively scheduled to open by Jan. 1, 1993, will accept low-level radioactive waste from within California as well as from Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota.

After 30 years, California can decide to continue operating the facility or close it and require one of the partner states to open a new dump.

There are three low-level radioactive waste dumps currently operating in the United States--in Nevada, Washington, and South Carolina. Under federal law, they will not be required to accept waste from other states after Jan. 1, 1993.

For years, California has been shipping low-level radiation waste to all three of these states. By setting up a waste plan with its partners, California would create its own disposal site and, by agreement with federal authorities, avoid having waste from other states imposed upon it.

If approved, the $40-million Ward Valley facility would be the first low-level nuclear waste dump in a generation to open in the United States.

A 1980 federal law required the states to find a solution to the mounting radioactive waste problem.

Low-level waste typically includes such items as clothing, gloves and tools used in hospitals and in the nuclear industry. The waste can take up to 100 years to decompose. It does not include the most dangerous types of waste, such as spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors. The operator of California’s proposed dump, U.S. Ecology Inc., said Wednesday the decision proved there were no grounds to fear that California would become a low-level nuclear dumping ground for the nation.

“From an opponent’s standpoint, it (the decision) knocks some of the wind out of their sails. They have indicated this will be a national dump. The vote of the compact disproves that,” company spokesman Jeff Raleigh said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

“The people of California have the final say in this matter under non-emergency conditions,” he added.