Assembly approves bill to ban Ward Valley from nuclear waste site list

By Jennifer Coleman The Associated Press
Thursday May 30, 2002

SACRAMENTO — The Assembly approved a bill Wednesday night that could lead to a new low-level nuclear waste site in California. 

Bill author Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek, said California needed to fulfill an obligation the state made when it signed a compact with Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota to find a site for low-level nuclear waste. That agreement was ratified by the Legislature in 1987. 

The state selected Ward Valley in the Mojave Desert in 1988, but that decision has been plagued by lawsuits and no facility has been built. Keeley’s bill would remove Ward Valley from consideration — at least temporarily. 

The disposal site would store low-level radioactive waste from hospitals and nuclear laboratories. Opponents fear contaminated water might leak into surrounding soils. The Colorado River, the water supply for millions of people in the Southwest, is about 20 miles east of Ward Valley. 

California can continue disposing its nuclear waste at a South Carolina site until 2008, but it is unclear how the state will handle longer-term needs. 

Meanwhile, Keeley said, most low-level radioactive waste is stored where it is produced — at hospitals and laboratories “literally in your backyard.” 

His bill would remove Ward Valley from consideration for the dump, and would require the state to establish standards for a low-level nuclear waste site. 

Once those are written down, he said, Ward Valley could be reconsidered if it met the new criteria. That would take another act of the Legislature and approval of the governor. Assemblyman Phil Wyman, R-Tehachapi, said he supported the Ward Valley plan, and opposed Keeley’s legislation. Wyman, whose district formerly included the site, said many residents there saw the site as a patriotic duty and were willing to “take the risk for our nation.”