Last April, Wilson, Wyo., resident Mary
Mitchell called the Jackson Hole News demanding to know more about
plans to burn nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering and
Environmental Laboratory. But Jackson papers had paid no attention
to the Department of Energy's plans to build an incinerator in
eastern Idaho, even though the facility would sit only 90 miles
upwind of the resort town.
well-informed and angry, Mitchell rallied Jackson Hole residents
and helped launch a nationwide campaign to stop the incinerator.
Her group, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, raised almost a million
dollars and also enlisted high-powered lawyer Gerry Spence (HCN,
9/27/99: Downwinders speak up and pay up).
Mitchell is celebrating. On March 27, the Department of Energy
agreed to scrap plans for the incinerator until it explores other
"We want this to be about forming a
precedent about incineration," says Mitchell. "This is a victory
that gives us momentum to address other issues."
In the settlement, which was crafted in about a
week, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and the Energy
Department agreed to put construction on hold until they convene a
panel of independent experts to find alternatives to incineration.
They will also pay opponents $150,000 in legal
"Our agreement today reaffirms our
commitment to act," says Richardson, "and allows us to continue to
work with local and state officials to determine the best way to
treat and dispose of this waste in an environmentally sound
The Energy Department agreed to settle,
in part, so that it could move forward with other projects at the
Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, says
department spokesman Brad Bugger. In the coming year, the
department plans to build a compaction plant to crush and repackage
65,000 cubic meters of waste stored at the laboratory and ship it
to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New
"The folks who oppose the incinerator
could have tied up the permit process for a very long time and
prevented us from moving forward," says Bugger, adding that the
Energy Department continues to stand behind incineration.