State legislators working on a plan to establish Massachusetts's first nuclear waste dump site yesterday formally accepted a Harvard recommendation to streamline the process.
Harvard, whose dozen affiliated teaching hospitals each year emit roughly 5000 cubic feet of medically related nuclear waste, had asked the Special Legislative Commission of Low-Level Radioactive Waste to synchronize the search for a waste site and the search for a company to operate the dump.
The commission's lawmakers, environmental activists and industry representatives incorporated Harvard's suggestion into the regulatory draft adopted yesterday, said Diane E. Mayer, associate director of the commission. The draft will be revised and sent to the legislature in about a month.
Harvard now ships its 275 annual barrels of waste to three overflowing out-of-state dump sites.
The three host states have been prevented from closing their gates to waste generators by a federal law. That law would allow them to shut or hike their fees dramatically at the end of this year.
But new legislation pending on Capitol Hill would force the sites to stay open a few more years, at the same time it would require waste-exporting states to get their own sites.
Those bills, which are being drawth up in commitees in the House and Senate, would set out deadlines for the states to announce dump sites and to apply for a license to operate them from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
If the states don't meet the deadlines, producers such as Harvard would either have to pay much higher fees to the dumps or store the waste themselves if the dumps refuse to accept the material.
The new draft should bring the state within a few months of meeting the federally mandated deadlines, said Mayer.
"It'll be close," she said. Commission members estimated that their first draft proposal would have missed the deadline by about a year.
The regulations in their present form still allow for extensive public review of the siting process, and current law requires a popular vote to approve the final site, Mayer said.
"We wanted to move as quickly as possible with putting the safety of the environment first," she said.