No responsible--or knowledgeable--federal regulatory official would claim that " . . . unlike generators of chemical or hazardous waste, nuclear waste generators are exempted from any liability for damages in the event of a leak." Yet this is the opinion The Times ascribes to Hugh Kaufman, identified as an "official of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."
The California Radioactive Materials Management Forum has been informed by the EPA that "Mr. Kaufman's current duties do not involve the disposal of low-level radioactive waste." Furthermore, according to Don R. Clay, the EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, when Kaufman is asked to speak on environmental issues, "he is speaking as a private citizen, and his views do not necessarily represent the considered opinion of the agency."
Under current law, regulatory and financial provisions for liability and cleanup in the unlikely event of a problem at the proposed California low-level waste disposal facility at Ward Valley are far better than for hazardous chemical waste disposal. The regulations of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Department of Health Services require extensive financial assurances for long-term care and maintenance of low-level waste disposal sites after closure. The site operator, U.S. Ecology, would be liable as licensee. Moreover, omnibus liability insurance is more easily obtained by operators of low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities than it is by operators of hazardous waste facilities. Additional coverage for California's low-level waste disposal facility can be provided if needed under provisions of the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal compact. All of this will be paid for through disposal fees paid by waste producers--not taxpayers.
If the Ward Valley waste disposal facility is not available, the low-level waste will have to be stored at literally hundreds of urban locations around the state.
California Radioactive Materials
Management Forum, Lafayette, Calif.