A bill revising state policy on low-level radioactive waste moved closer to the governor’s desk last week.
House Bill 220, Radioactive Waste Amendments, passed on the House floor with a 51-20 vote on Feb. 12. It then cleared a Senate committee on Valentine’s Day.
The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted 7-2 on Feb. 14 to send the third substitute version of HB 220 to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carl Albrecht, R- Salt Lake City, told the Senate committee that the bill has two purposes: to provide clarity for a policy question asked by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and to implement a science based site and waste specific acceptance model for evaluating and decision making about low-level radioactive waste acceptance.
“The main policy question is, ‘When do you classify waste?’” Albrecht said. “The answer this bill provides is: waste is classified at time of acceptance.”
Waste classification at time of acceptance is the industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission standard, according to Vern Rogers, director of regulatory affairs for EnergySolutions.
The state Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control needs an answer to the policy question so they can finish a seven-year old evaluation of EnergySolutions’ request to accept large quantities of depleted uranium at their Clive disposal facility, according to Rogers.
Third substitute HB 220, as approved by the Senate committee on Feb. 14, contains specific language regarding the disposal of more than one metric ton of depleted uranium.
The bill would require a performance assessment along with the federal government taking ownership and stewardship of the depleted uranium waste. It also requires that the federal government accept financial responsibility for the waste as a condition of the disposal of more than one metric ton of depleted uranium.
HB 220 clarifies that low-level radioactive waste that is classified as class B or C at the time of acceptance may not be disposed of in the state. It also contains provisions for legislative oversight of waste acceptance decisions.
Matthew McCarty, of South Rim, spoke against the bill during the Senate committee meeting.
“Don’t rush into this,” McCarty said. “Don’t take a scientific process and try to make it a political one for the good of the state so that we don’t permanently contaminate our soil and our groundwater.”
Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne told the committee that he supports the bill.
Milne said he was disappointed when the Waste Management and Radiation Control Board denied a request by EnergySolutions that would have allowed the Clive Disposal Facility to accept metallic depleted uranium from ballistic weapons stored at Tooele Army Depot.
Depleted uranium is not spent nuclear fuel, but it is the byproduct of the enrichment of uranium ore.
During the enrichment process the usable isotope of uranium, known as uranium-235, is removed from the ore, leaving behind uranium ore with uranium-238, a less radioactive isotope. With the usable uranium removed, the remaining uranium is called depleted uranium.
As depleted uranium naturally decays over time, initially the products of the decay process produce more radiation than the original mass of depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium initially is at the low end of what the NRC classifies as class A low-level radioactive waste. However, after 38,000 years depleted uranium will be above what is called class A waste, according to Rogers.
“HB 220 doesn’t relieve our burden of having to demonstrate that because it [depleted uranium] is unique that we can manage it over time,” Rogers said. “Even over long times, protecting the water and protecting the atmosphere.”
Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, who represents part of Tooele County, is member of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment committee. He voted to send HB 220 to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.
“I appreciate the fact we’re all concerned about what this will do to environment over time,” he said. “I am trusting in those that will regulate this to know what is best. … This may have economic benefits for Tooele County and I trust in the science of what our state people and national people can do to inter this correctly.”