Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Lawmakers push for uranium waste plants in Ohio, Kentucky

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Buried within the Senate's anti-terrorism spending bill is a measure intended to accelerate the cleanup of uranium waste in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, but the fate of that provision is uncertain.

        Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., inserted the measure in the bill approved by the Senate last week. It would require the Energy Department to build two facilities to convert depleted uranium at nuclear sites in the three states into a safer form.

        Congress passed similar legislation in 1998, but the Bush administration has maintained that the language wasn't mandatory and that it might only build one facility to save money.

        McConnell's measure requires that construction of waste conversion facilities begins by July 2004 at uranium plants in Piketon, Ohio and Paducah, Ky.

        The project is expected to add about 200 jobs to each site. Congressional aides estimate the cost of building two plants and running them for about 20 years at roughly $1 billion. The administration has estimated it could save $100 million by building just one facility.

        The converters would take the uranium compound being stored in about 60,000 steel cylinders at Paducah, Piketon and Oak Ridge, Tenn. and turn it into forms that are less toxic.

        Some of the cylinders are in poor condition and could leak, releasing toxic gas and uranium, said Richard Miller, a policy analyst with the Government Accountability Project, a Washington watchdog group.

        “This stuff is very corrosive and it's sitting in cylinders that are rusting,” Miller said. “These cylinders were never intended to sit there and hold this for 50 or 60 years.”

        The House spending bill does not include a measure dealing with the uranium plants, and some in that chamber are expected to oppose including McConnell's provision in the final bill. They say the Energy Department has more serious cleanup problems around the country. The administration also objects to it.

        The House approved a $29 billion anti-terror bill in May. The Senate bill costs $31.5 billion, a figure the White House has said is too high and could prompt a veto.

        McConnell said Monday he was pleased his measure got in the Senate bill but voiced concern about its future.

        “I will stay the course, but it remains to be seen if the final bill will contain my provision or even if the president will sign the appropriations bill,” McConnell said.

        Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who represents Paducah, said it makes more sense to build two conversion facilities, since it would be expensive to transport all the cylinders to one site. He also said that could be hazardous.

        “You're dealing with some material that people don't like to see going through their communities,” Whitfield said.


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