Congressmen and local officials from five states asserted yesterday that the Department of Energy has broken promises that it would regularly consult with them about selecting the three national repositories for high-level radioactive waste.
The officials, whose states are under consideration for the repositories, said the sites might not be safe and will not have the public's confidence because of DOE's failure to allow states to participate in the selection process.
Gov. Booth Gardner (D) of Washington told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy conservation and power that DOE officials "are more concerned with deadlines and reports than they are with making sure they have selected the best possible site."
Lt. Gov. Marlene Johnson (D) of Minnesota said it was "unconscionable" that DOE had failed to share information with the states.
Earlier this year, DOE named three sites it preferred for the first high-level radioactive waste repository, which is supposed to be constructed by 1998 and intended to last 10,000 years. Those sites are Hanford, Wash., Yucca Mountain, Nev., and Deaf Smith County, Tex.
Subcommittee chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said that he had received reports from DOE staff members that it had "thrown away" department documents about key meetings on the rankings of the sites. As a result of the destruction of those documents, he said, it is difficult to know whether the selection is based on political or geological considerations.
The allegation was challenged by Ben C. Rusche, director of DOE's Office of Radioactive Waste Management, who said adequate records of the meetings on site rankings had been presented to the subcommittee.
Rusche, describing consultations with local officials as "perfect," told the subcommittee that his staff had been open to state comments and had "on several occasions expanded the interactive process."
"We have attempted to display the process, and contrary to what you have heard, we did offer to discuss the process," he said.
But state officials sharply disputed his testimony.
J.I. Palmer Jr., an assistant to the Mississippi governor for radioactive waste, when asked by Markey to list problems he'd had with DOE, responded: "That is a little bit like being a mosquito in a nudist colony; you just don't know where to begin."
"Their definition of consultation is essentially a one-way flow of information," Steve Frishman, the director of the nuclear waste programs office in Texas, said.
Gardner, whose state now houses about 60 percent of the nation's high-level waste, also complained that the ranking process was "seriously flawed."
"Under their rules of the game, there was no way either the Hanford site or the Nevada site could have been excluded from the final three, no matter how unsafe they were." He suggested Congress should gather a panel of independent experts to examine the program.
But DOE's Rusche said an independent appraisal is unnecessary.