Nuclear waste goes camping

  Rocky Flats, the closed atomic bomb factory on the outskirts of Denver, is running out of room to store the waste from its cleanup efforts. By this summer, low-level transuranic waste will be stored in stainless steel containers placed in 9,600 steel drums, which will then be stored outside under temporary tents. Although the tents are built to withstand 100 mph winds, and the drums weigh nearly 200 pounds when empty, many locals fear the outside storage.

"Whenever you have outdoor storage in this part of Colorado, you have to be concerned with the weather changes we have out here," says Sam Dixion of the Westminster City Council. "There is a chance that something could happen - high winds, lightning - any number of things."

But the waste has to go somewhere. Rocky Flats' waste, mostly contaminated clothing and equipment, is earmarked for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. Although WIPP began accepting waste in early April (HCN, 4/12/99), a decade after it was finished, Colorado's nuclear debris has yet to head south - and no one knows when shipments will begin. As the Rocky Flats cleanup continues, the waste will keep accumulating.

"Rocky Flats sits in a metropolitan area with over 2 million people," says Pat Etchart of the Department of Energy. "It was never designed to store waste, but now it has to."

* Juniper Davis
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