Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld has submitted a bill to the state's House Ways and Means Committee that calls for up to $45 million of tax-exempt bonding to finance the study of radioactive waste treatment.
Approval of the legislation would mark the first time the commonwealth has sold bonds for examining the treatment of low-level radioactive waste, according to Benjamin McKelway, public participation coordinator for the Massachusetts Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Board. The nine-member board is appointed by the governor.
Raymond Miyares, attorney for the management board, said he hopes the House panel will pass the bill when the House returns to session after Labor Day.
Members of the Ways and Means Committee could not be reached for comment.
Mr. McKelway said a significant portion of the bond proceeds would be used to find an appropriate site in the commonwealth to build its own treatment facility. Massachusetts currently transports the bulk of its radioactive waste to a South Carolina site, but will not be able to do so for much longer.
The first step of the process involves an extensive ecological study of the state's topography.
The next step, Mr. McKelway said, would be to narrow down the possible locations for the facility.
"A group of between two and five sites will be studied even further for at least four seasons," he explained. "I don't see ground breaking for at least three years from the time the study begins."
As another option, Massachusetts could also use some of the bond proceeds to pay for the use of another state's facility if it decides not to build its own treatment plant, Mr. Miyares said.
Mr. McKelway said that former state Sen. Carol Amick, who serves as executive director of the waste management board, has met with representatives of facilities in Texas, California, and Illinois to ship waste there. But the discussions have been "unsuccessful so far," he said.
Massachusetts must consider these options because South Carolina has decided to close its facility on July 1, 1994.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1985 ruling on the treatment of radioactive waste gave states the option of not accepting out-of-state radioactive waste after Jan. 1, 1993. Until the ruling takes effect, states with such facilities are, and have been, required to accept the waste.
In reaction to the ruling, Mr. McKelway said, states around the nation have been setting up regional centers to handle the waste.
"Almost every area in the country was successful in doing this except New England," he said. "There were problems in New England with local jurisdiction."
Mr. McKelway said that states in that area were not willing to give up total control of facilities in their states and allow for regional policy discussions.
However, Mr. Miyares said negotiations are under way with the existing facility in South Carolina to allow Massachusetts to continue to ship its waste until the plants shuts.
Current federal law allows states to store their low-level radioactive waste until an appropriate facility is found. But both officials said the board does not consider this to be a viable long-term solution.
Mr. Miyares was uncertain of the final cost of building the Massachusetts treatment facility, but said the fees such a plant could charge industries would "go a long way towards offsetting that cost."