Nebraska's Interstate Compact Impasse Not Likely to Be Solved with Others Soon

By Sobek, Stephen | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

Nebraska's Interstate Compact Impasse Not Likely to Be Solved with Others Soon


Sobek, Stephen, THE JOURNAL RECORD


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Gov. Ben Nelson calls it a "bad marriage" -- and missed deadlines, cost overruns, lawsuit threats and finger- pointing have others calling for a divorce.

Nebraska is part of a five-state commission created to dispose of low-level nuclear waste that has been trying for more than a decade to build reinforced-concrete waste bunker in northern Nebraska. It is one of 10 regional waste sites planned in the nation.

The other four states in the waste compact with Nebraska are considering suing Nebraska over lengthy delays. And a Nebraska state senator wants Nebraska to leave the waste compact altogether. "I think we underestimated the political difficulty," said U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who signed Nebraska into the waste compact in 1984 as governor. The Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission was supposed to open a disposal facility in Nebraska in 1993 at a price tag of $31 million. Four years and $80 million later, new estimates put the dump's total cost at nearly $154 million. Nationally, none of the regional waste compacts have built new waste sites yet. One of the power companies that funds the Central Interstate compact has threatened to cut the purse strings. The Nebraska Public Power District agreed last month to continue paying its $31.1 million commitment to the compact but said it will stop after that amount unless progress is made. The dump needs licenses from the Nebraska departments of Health and Environmental Quality. The commission set a Jan. 14 deadline for the Nebraska agencies to decide but it passed without a decision. Nebraska officials say it might be 1999 before a decision on licenses is final. The state will file environmental impact reports on the site in Boyd County near Butte in October, but an advisor to Nelson said public hearings on those reports will take a year and a half. William Spell, Louisiana's representative in the compact, said that in his state, the licenses would have been issued by now. Spell is in charge of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality's radiation protection division. "This thing has gone to the point where it's getting very adversarial," Spell said. "We just have not seen anything that would let us know where (Nebraska) stands." Besides Louisiana and Nebraska, other states in the compact are Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Federal law requires all states to be part of regional compacts to dispose low-level radioactive waste, which includes contaminated tools and clothing from nuclear power plants and medical research centers. Only fuel core rods are considered high-level waste and disposed at federal facilities. Some of the radioactivity in low-level nuclear waste will decay within months or a few years. But some elements -- including small amounts of plutonium -- are radioactive for hundreds of years. …

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