11.X.405 AtrstIti clear that the policy federal administrators prefer is one of national planning and site selection for nuclear burial grounds. Planning of any sort would mark a new departure in the handling of low-level waste disposalRobert Ryan, director of the NRC’s office of state programs, points out that there hasn’t been a systematic approach, “just individual states making decisions on random licensing applications.” The new attitude at the federal level is clearly implied in Ryan’s further comment that “we [the NRC] resist the idea that there should be promiscuous sites.” Though the feds continue to stress “cooperative federalism” and “consultation and cooperation” with the states, state officials like David Lacker of the Texas Health Department fear that the new emphasis on national planning portends a federal push to take over control. The prospect disturbs him, he says, because “we are more cautious” than the NRC. To buttress his case against letting authority over low-level waste shift to the national level, Lacker claimed that the three dumps that have had to be permanently closed were all federally licensed operations. Chem-Nuclear’s lobbyists belabored this point too. But a check with Robert Ryan of the NRC and with state officials in Kentucky and New York revealed that Maxey Flats and West Valley were state-licensed facilities whose woes could hardly be attributed to federal regulations. When the Observer asked Lacker about this, he said, “I’ve since learned that Maxey Flats was licensed by the state.” Upon being informed that West Valley was also, Lacker was somewhat taken aback. “You hear things in meetings,” he said, “and sometimes your information isn’t right.” Yet it was partly on the basis of such misinformation that the 66th Legislature was asked to rush Chem-Nuclear’s low-level waste bill into the statute books. Lacker was right, though, about one of the three abandoned dumpsthe Sheffield, Illinois, site was licensed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commissionand he has other arguments for the superiority of state control that merit attention. Though the Health Department’s licensing experience with low-level waste has been limited to regulating the 1,400-plus users of nuclear materials in Texas, the agency has been the regulator of on-site disposal of uranium mill tailings, and Lacker points with pride to a recent EPA report that no radiation was detected in the area around any of the Texas uranium sites. The radiation control division he heads has also never allowed uranium tailings to be used for landfill or construction materiala practice that led to radiation contamination of hundreds of buildings, including homes and schools, in Grand Junction and Durango, Colorado. There is also something to the general argument legislators heard a lot this springthat the state is more likely than the federal government to give due weight to the wishes of the people of Texas when it comes to striking a balance between local concerns and the national need for more dumping grounds. But the validity of that argument depends on the particulars of the state policy that is adopted and the way it’s carried out, and the particulars of the policy that Chem-Nuclear wants Texas to embrace leave much to be desired. The best illustration is the provision made in Chem-Nuclear’s bill for the “perpetual care” of any low-level waste site the state might license. Though Lacker of the Health Department cited this provision as one of his reasons for supporting the bill, legislators like Babe Schwartz raised serious doubts about the adequacy of the fund it would set up to pay for the permanent maintenance of such a burial ground. The fund would come from annual contributions by the commercial licensee, but the complicated formulas for fixing the amount of these contributions leave unclear just how much the taxpayers of Texas would be stuck for if unforeseen problems 22 JULY 13, 1979
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