Thursday, June 3, 2004 · Last updated 5:30 p.m. PT

EPA rejects radioactive waste removal plan


CINCINNATI -- Federal environmental regulators have rejected a government plan to begin removing highly radioactive waste from a former uranium-processing plant in Ohio.

Nevada has threatened a lawsuit to block the Energy Department from shipping the waste from the former Fernald plant to the department's desert disposal site 65 miles north of Las Vegas.

The Environmental Protection Agency told the Energy Department on Tuesday that it should not start removing the powdery waste from a concrete silo later this month and then hold it at Fernald until it could be shipped.

Keeping the waste at Fernald after it is out of the silo would violate a cleanup agreement the Energy Department reached years ago with federal and state environmental regulators, the EPA said.

Bill Taylor, the Energy Department's director of the $4 billion-plus cleanup, said Thursday that any lengthy delays could jeopardize the project's planned completion in 2006.

The Energy Department will continue talks with all parties in hopes of working out the differences, Taylor said.

Federal and state environmental regulators say the cleanup agreement requires continuous shipments of waste to Nevada as it is removed from silos. The Energy Department wants to ship the wastes in hundreds of trucks between now and 2006 for permanent disposal at its Nevada Test Site, where the government once tested nuclear weapons.

The department has been moving low-level radioactive wastes from Fernald to Nevada for years. But state officials say the higher-level waste will need a more secure disposal site with lined pits.

From the early 1950s until 1989, the Fernald plant processed and purified uranium metal for use in reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Fernald ended production in 1989 to begin the cleanup.

The site is located about 20 miles northwest of Cincinnati,


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