The Carter administration said yesterday it plans to demonstrate by 1983 that spent nuclear fuel can be safely stored and by 1988 that radioactive wastes can be permanently buried without harming the environment.
This was the timetable laid out by the Department of Energy's Task Force on Nuclear Waste Management which had been told last year by President Carter to come up with workable nuclear wste disposal plans. Besides announcing timetables for spent uranium storage and permanent burial of radioactive wastes like strontium and cesium, the Energy Department said by 1985 it will begin to bury plutonium wastes in an abandoned salt mine in New Mexico.
At the same time, the administration was also holding talks with Congress about a compromise plan to revive the nuclear fast breeder that Carter had wanted to kill.
Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger Jr. met Monday night and Tuesday with key House leaders to discuss a plan that would kill the plutonium breeder planned for Clinch River, Tenn., and get under way elsewhere a larger breeder tht would not breed the kind of plutonium that could be made into nuclear weapons.
"I think we're seeing a change in direction in nuclear energy in the Carter administration," said Rep. Walter Flowers (D-Ala.), chairman of the House subcommittee on fossill and nuclear energy research. "What we're talking about is in exchange for the Congress for going Clinch River, we'll be getting some White House accommodation on the country's overall breeder effort."
The administration's plans for radioactive waste disposal came in direct response to complaints that the nation had no plan for permanent disposal of the wastes, which remain radioactive for as long as 100,000 years. Ever since the dawn of the Atomic Age, built above and just below ground.
"My own personal view is that this proposal should go a long way to alleviating the fears in some states that the federal government has no plan for waste disposal," said Dr. John M. Deutch, DOE's director of energy research. "I'm thinking specifically of the California objection."
Earlier this year, California passed legislation banning the construction of new nuclear plants until the federal government came up with a plan to permanently bury atomic wastes. Wisconsin is considering a similar plan and no fewer than 10 other states are exploring such plans.
The Energy Department said it wanted to demonstrate spent fuel and permanent waste disposal in the next 10 years so it could have a fully workable plan to dispose of spent fuel and wastes by 2000. Energy officials pointed out that even if there is no growth in nuclear power in the next 20 years, there will be a growing accumulation of radioactive wastes from the 68 nuclear plants operating.
Cost estimates of any waste-disposal plan ranged from $13 billion if there is no growth in nuclear power to $23 billion if the industry grows as energy experts expect. The cost estimates cover the next 23 years and do not include any fees the Federal government might collect from electric companies whose wastes the government takes.
"I would expect that the fees was charge for waste disposal," Deutch said, "would add 5 percent per year to the electric utilities' power costs."
Though insisting it would demonstrate the storage of spend fuel by 1983, DOE conceded it had not picked a site. Spent fuel is not strictly considered to be waste because it still contains the plutonium that many energy experts want to extract from the fuel so they can "burn" it to generate electricity.
No permanent disposal site has been chosen yet for wastes either, except that an abandoned salt mine outside Carlsbad, N.M., has been selected as a repository for waste containing small amounts of plutonium. These are not considered the most dangerous wastes because plutonium produces only alpha radiation, which can be easily protected against.