Energy Department Seeks Rule Change on N-Waste Disposal

Offshore oil drilling is one area where the Bush administration is trying to rewrite the rules; radioactive waste disposal is another. A month ago, a federal judge ordered the Department of Energy to remove 85 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste from sites in Idaho, South Carolina, and Washington by shipping it to Yucca Mountain, Nev. Environmental officials from the three states asked the DOE to follow federal laws when handling the waste; instead, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham began rewriting them. The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the federal government to discuss nuclear waste disposal with the states where the waste will be kept; now, Abraham wants to revise the rules to allow the feds to classify waste as low-level without consulting with states. That classification would enable the waste to be disposed of more cheaply — for instance by mixing it with grout and burying it, rather than requiring that it be shipped to a disposal site designed for high-level nuclear waste.