The federal government again has postponed plans for disposal of nuclear waste by recommending more study before settling on permanent sites or methods of disposal.
A review group representing 16 agencies yesterday sent President Carter a two-volume report saying that work should begin "at once" only on the siting and construction of "one or more" medium-size burial vaults for the short-term storage of the most poisonous radioactive wastes. Hedging even on this, the report said the vaults should be built to allow access and removal of the wastes to more permanent sites.
Nowhere in the report does the review group identify states or regions of the United States where these "intermediate-scale facilities" should be located. The closest it comes to zeroing in on a location is to suggest continued development of the Department of Energy's proposed site called WIPP (for waste isolation pilot plant) in an abandoned salt mine outside Carlsbad, N.M.
New Mexico has been far from enthusiastic about its selection for the first test site but Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger has assured the New Mexico congressional delegation that no waste will be stored inside the state without its "concurrence."
When he was asked yesterday if the review group recommended legislation to give states a veto over disposal sites, DOE Research Director John M. Deutsch said the group was opposed to state veto rights. Instead, Deutsch fell back on Schlesinger's word, "concurrence."
Deutsch said it was his hope that "as many as 1,000" spent fuel assemblies or waste canisters could be stored at the first burial vault but that no waste could be buried before 1986. He called 1986 the "earliest possible date."
The review group's report said the first permanent "repository" could not be selected before 1984 and construction of the first repository could not be completed before 1992.
"Prudent planning," the report said, "suggests anticipating initial operation during the period 1992 to 1995."
The report said waste burial in salt still seems the best solution to the disposal problem, something scientists have said for 21 years. But the report did not rule out burial in other deep rock formations, mostly granite, basalt and deep ocean sediment.