Energy Secretary James B. Edwards said his department will move as quickly as possible to establish permanent storage sites for highly radioactive nuclear wastes, and, although he will consult with state governors, he does not believe they should have the power to veto the location of the sites.
In a session with reporters at the Department of Energy, Edwards renewed his personal commitment to reviving the nuclear power industry and called resolution of the fuel storage issue one of the highest priorities.
"We've got to get nuclear on the move again," Edwards said. "I am a strong supporter of nuclear energy. "I don't like [it] because of the environmental problems, but in the next 30 to 40 years, there is no real place to turn other than nuclear energy."
Edwards is the former govenor of South Carolina, which has a large concentration of military and commercial nuclear facilities.
Edwards confirmed that the Reagan administration's efforts to reduce federal spending will cut deeply into department budget, but he denied that he is at odds with David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget and Reagan's chief budget architect. According to preliminary OMB documents, DOE is being asked to absorb a $9 billion reduction in budget authority in the current fiscal year, followed by an additional $6.6 billion in reductions in fiscal 1982, below the levels in former president Carter's final budget.
"I'm working in partnership with Dave," Edwards said.
The only major exceptions to the budget-paring will be the department's nuclear power and atomic weapons programs and the ongoing purchase of crude oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Edwards said. DOE will try to make a modest increase in the current flow of oil into the reserve, now about 100,000 barrels a day, but the increase will be limited by budget restrictions. President Reagan's action removing the remaining oil price controls has raised the price of the domestic crude oil purchased for the strategic reserve.
As part of the spending cuts, Edwards hopes to transfer several large synthetic fuels projects now under way from the DOE budget to the budget of the new Synthetic Fuels Corp. The DOE was given funds by Congress to begin synfuels development, but that responsibility has shifted to the new synfuels corporation.
A decision by DOE to cut its financial support for major synfuels projects could put some of them in jeopardy, however. In particular, developers of the first large-scale plant -- the Great Plains coal gasification plant in Beulah, N.D. -- have expressed concern that the project could falter if it does not quickly receive $1.8 bilion in federal loan guarantees. Switching the project to the Synthetic Fuels Corp. could mean months of delay in obtaining federal backing, the developers fear.
Edwards also said the department is considering shifting responsibility for two large synfuels demonstration plants from DOE to the synfuels corporation. One is the so-called SRC (solvent-refined coal) Plant I at Newman, Ky., and the other is the SRC Plant II at Morgantown, W.Va. Each is expected to cost $1.4 billion.
In contrast with his initial public appearances at his Senate confirmation hearing and in a news conference announcing the oil decontrol decision, Edwards appeared relaxed in the 90-minute session, handling most questions without difficulty.
Edwards conceded he was surprised and "a little concerned" when gasoline and fuel oil prices jumped upward by nearly 9 cents a gallon after Reagan's decision to decontrol oil prices. Edwards, relying on White House experts, had predicted then that the price increase would be only 3 to 5 cents a gallon. But Edwards did not draw back from the decontrol decision, and said he isn't troubled by the higher revenues the oil companies will receive as a consequence.