December 18, 2002 11:00 pm

A load of highly radioactive nuclear waste may travel through La Grande in a few days on its way to storage at Hanford.

The truck loaded with 10 barrels of the waste left Battelle's former hot-cell laboratory in Ohio on Wednesday. The truck will cross the mountains on either Interstate 90 or I-84. The exact date of arrival has not been released.

Wednesday's shipment was just the first. About 110 more barrels will be sent to Washington in the spring.

The Oregon Office of Energy is not opposed to Wednesday's shipment, according to Ken Niles, a spokesman for the office.

"This is a small shipment and it makes sense for it to come to Hanford," he said. "We would oppose increased shipments from other areas to Hanford."

Advocates for an efficient cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford have expressed concerns about the Washington nuclear reservation becoming a dumping ground for waste from other parts of the nation.

Niles said the December shipment will contain the type of radiation that penetrates, unlike contaminated gloves, wrenches and other supplies. The material is being shipped in a carbon steel, lead-lined container.

In past years — until the mid-1990s — shipments of nuclear material went up and down Interstate 84 on a regular basis, he said.

"This is a different type of waste," he said. "There isn't a definitive path for it out of Hanford. We don't know how long it will be there."

A permanent dumping ground in New Mexico has begun the process of becoming licensed to receive the type of nuclear waste being sent from Ohio.