A draft environmental impact statement is expected to be released for public comment in the fall.
"We are ordered to come up with a site," Marcinowski said. "We see this as an opportunity to help reduce the export and transportation of mercury."
Officials in Texas, the only site where a private, commercial landfill expressed interest in storing the waste, have taken no position on the proposal. Waste Control Specialists, based in Dallas, already stores PCBs and radioactive waste at its landfill near Andrews in West Texas.
The company has permits to receive mercury at the site, as long as they don't exceed their capacity, said Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told a radio station that mercury storage there is "not gonna happen" and expressed dismay that he hadn't been notified Idaho National Laboratory was even being considered. Officials in South Carolina say waste at the Savannah River site from the production of atomic weapons during World War II and the Cold War should be dealt with before more is added.
The Bannister Federal Complex near Kansas City is also being considered, but the Kansas City Council unanimously approved a resolution this month protesting the plan.
Some Hanford-area residents say mercury won't add much to the extensive contamination already at the site, which produced plutonium for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in World War II. Others believe it's a bad idea.
Five years ago, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that barred the federal government from bringing any more nuclear waste to Hanford until the existing waste is cleaned up. A federal appeals court ruled it was unconstitutional.
The voters' sentiment remains, even if the issue isn't black and white for Washington officials, said Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology.
"We have plenty to clean up at Hanford and adding some new waste stream is something to be cautious of," Manning said, though he added that the state supports efforts to create a mercury repository. "But it's too early to categorically say, 'No.' We want to engage in discussion and we want a rigorous and thorough environmental evaluation."
Associated Press writers Steven K. Paulson in Grand Junction, Colo., and Martin Griffith in Reno contributed to this report.