- When the Department of Energy makes its expected announcement this week on plans for disposing of the nation's nuclear wastes, it is almost certain to have something to say about this small farming community of 9,000 people.

Located 60 miles southwest of Chicago. Morris is the only place in the United States that accepts spent nuclear fuel for shortage. But, it's filling up fast and a move to expand it faces a court challenge from the Illinois attorney general. In microcosm, Morris illustrates the many questions raised about nuclear waste.

There are 310 tons of spent radioactive fuel stored in a deep pool at Morris, fuel from power plants in Illinois, Wisconsin. Connected and California. Morris has room for 440 tons more, but the way spent fuel is building up in the United States, Morris has applied for a license to store up to 1,850 tons.

The DOE proposal for waste disposal will surely involve plans for storage of spent fuel, which, because of President Carter's indefinite deferral of any scheme to remove plutonium from it, is considered waste.

At present, most nuclear power plants store their spent fuel in "swimming" pools on their own property. The few that do not have either shipped the spent fuel to Morris or they're so ne wthey haven't produced any.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures the United States will need five or six spent fuel storage pools scattered around the country to handle the nation's radioactive waste by the year 2000. Morris, with the only one operating today, is bound to be one of them.

"What has been missing from any national plan to dispose of radioactive waste," said NRC's Sheldon Meyers, "is we can't take people to a location and say we've got spent fuel from eight reactors and it's been there for 10 years nice and safe. Morris is the closest thing we've got."

Like many schemes in the nuclear power business, Morris has had its share of trouble. It was built by General Electric in 1971 and received its first spent fuel in 1972. It was originally designed to reprocess spent fuel, meaning it planned to extract plutonium to await the day that fast breeder reactors would begin burning plutonium as fuel.

The reprocessing plant never worked, largely because of design errors. It sits on the Morris site, the shell of a factory whose whistle never blew. It has been described as a $67 million "white elephant."

Morris has a license to store spent fuel for three more years, at which time it must renew its license for 10 years. Illinois Attorney General William Scott, arguing that too much spent fuel would be kept in one place, asked the NRC not to allow any more to be shipped to Morris. NRC turned the petition down, and Scott has appealed to the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the matter rests.

Meanwhile, spent fuel is still moving into Morris, where it rests in 30 feet of water and 3,000 squarefeet of reinforced concrete and stainless steel plate.