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States move toward sharing burden of radioactive waste disposal

The recent efforts of the three governors to have states other than their own share the burden of disposing of lowlevel radioactive wastes appear to be having some effect.

Pennsylvania is planning to survey potential burial sites to replace what state officials called the "undependable" facilities in Washington, Nevada, and South Carolina.

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Michigan, one of several states that passed laws banning storage of such wastes inside its borders, has considered relaxing its ban.

"They recognize that they are part of the problem," says Colin Health, director of nuclear waste isolation for the US Department of Energy.

The governors of Washington and Nevada temporarily closed their states' burial sites last year, complaining of improperly packaged wastes. They and the governor of South Carolina have been urging other states to take their fair share of the wastes.

Pressing her advantage, Washington Gov. Dixy Lee Ray announced in her Jan. 15 "state of the state" message that unless other states act to establish their own disposal sites, she will ban importation of all how-level wastes into Washington after Dec. 31, 1982.

Governor Ray, a former chairman of the defunct Atomic Energy Commission, has been under tremendous political pressure from opponents who claim she wants to turn Washington into the nation's "nuclear dumping ground."

A potential opponent in this year's gubernatorial race, co-speaker of the state House of Representatives John Bagnariol, if pushing for a state initiative that would ban all out-of-state nuclear wastes -- except those produced in hospitals -- after July 1981.

The other governors feel the same pressures and by their actions are serving notice that they will not take the political heat because ofher states are unwilling to locate waste dumps inside their boundaries.

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Washington and Nevada signaled their displeasure by temporarily banning shipments of waste last fall. South Carolina has placed quotas on the amount of waste it will take and has tripled its storage fees to "discourage wholesale dumping," according to an aide to Gov. Richard Riley. South Carolina currently gets about 80 percent of the nation's low-level radioactive wastes.

Washington has more than tripled its storage fees -- from eight cents per cubic foot to 25 cents.

The Western governors say it is unfair that there are no storage sites in areas of the country where most of the waste is produced -- including all of the Northeastern states.

Right now the Northeast produces about half of all the radioactive wastes in the country, half of it from nuclear power plants and half from medical and research institutions.


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