From: Robert Weller, Associated Press
Published April 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Last Shipment of High-Level Radioactive Waste Leaves Colorado

DENVER — The last shipment of high-level radioactive waste in the $7 billion cleanup of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant rumbled off to a dump site in New Mexico.

Since 1999, almost 95,000 barrels of waste have been shipped from Rocky Flats, where plutonium triggers were manufactured during the Cold War. The Department of Energy has called it the largest and most complex project of its kind to date.

Tuesday's last high-level radioactive waste shipment was in three containers, containing 11 barrels and one box.

"The nearby communities definitely can feel safer now because this was the last of the heavy stuff," said Ken Korkia of the Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board.

The waste _ including contaminated clothing, tools, rags and other debris and residues _ was trucked from the site just west of Denver to a repository in an ancient salt bed formation near Carlsbad, N.M.

The 10-year project is expected to be complete by November, a year ahead of schedule. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to use a portion of the 6,240-acre site as a wildlife refuge.

Critics have said the site will not be safe because the cleanup did not include sites where radioactive waste was illegally dumped or buried.

But as the Rocky Flats project winds down, the project may set a standard for similar cleanups in other states.

In Washington state, the cleanup of a 560-square-mile plutonium production site at the Hanford nuclear reservation has been under way for more than a decade, slowed by technical, political and budget problems and questions about worker safety. Hanford contains the nation's largest volume of radioactive waste.

In Idaho, officials of the Idaho National Laboratory hope to complete a cleanup by 2012.

"Our success at Rocky Flats is a great inspiration to those other sites as well. Six years ago, seven years ago, the problems at Rocky seemed insurmountable," said Clay Sell, deputy secretary of energy.

Source: Associated Press

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