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Missouri's Gift to Ohio is Radioactive

October 05, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY _ Shortly after the turn of the century, Missouri will have a "gift" for the state of Ohio - radioactive waste.

Ohio has been designated as the host state for the Midwest Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact's waste. The Midwest compact is composed of Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The compact was established by federal law which designated regions in the country that had to consolidate storage of low-level radioactive waste within each region. As part of the law, the federal government accepted responsibility for establishing a central national site for high-level waste - a task yet to be completed.

Ohio became the lucky recipient of Midwest low-level radioactive waste after it was determined that it generated the most waste out of the states in the compact.

Missouri's low-level radioactive waste is presently being shipped to Barnwell, South Carolina. According to Tom Lange, a planner for Missouri's Natural Resources Department, the South Carolina site accepts waste from 39 states in the U.S.

Low-level radioactive waste consists of "everyday trash that's been contaminated in labs," Lange said. This also includes gloves, tools, glass, clothes, soils, animals, and some hospital waste.

Low-level radioactive waste is divided into three categories: class A, class B and class C. Class C is the most radioactive and takes a considerably longer period of time to decay to a harmless level, according to Lange. "A lot of people could make the argument that class C could be put into high level [radioactive waste]," Lange said.

High-level radioactive waste, which is considerably more dangerous than low-level, comes from spent fuel rods and water filters in nuclear reactors. Union Electric's Callaway Nuclear Plant, in Fulton, and the University of Missouri campuses in Rolla and Columbia operate nuclear reactors in Missouri.

The U.S. Department of Energy presides over location and development of disposal facilities for high-level radioactive waste. The federal government has yet to establish a permanent site for high-level waste.

Lange said that radioactive waste is actually easier to handle and poses less of a public threat than chemical hazardous waste. "This is a lot safer - people have an unfounded fear when dealing with radioactive waste," he said.

The federal law regarding the chosen site allows the host community certain premiums, including improvements in the public infrastructure, additional public employees, enhanced emergency response capability, and the hiring of an independent resident inspector to monitor all aspects of facility operation, closure, and long-term care.

The community will also have the option of requesting an epidemiological health study. Epidemiological health studies are done near lead smelters and dioxin plants around the nation, according to Lange. The study's purpose is "to determine of there are any potential health-related effects of operating such a facility," Lange said.

As to Ohio's reaction to its selection as the host state, "They are moving forward and responding to their obligations in a very responsible manner," Lange said. He added that technology has made it easier to detect the radiation levels in the waste, which lessens the chance of accidents. An Ohio representative could not be reached for comment.

Ohio will have responsibility for the radioactive waste for 20 years after the site begins operating. After that time, another state in the compact will begin receiving the waste.

"Ohio wants to be assured that the other states will fulfill their commitment after they fulfill theirs," Lange said, "and that's a reasonable expectation."

Until then, Ohio gets the waste. But Missouri's turn is coming. "Missouri will get its chance," Lange said.