Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 22, 2005
Delegation vows fight in N-waste standoff

The battle over an above-ground nuclear waste repository at the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation isn’t over yet, but opposing sides are making sure their opinions are heard loud and clear before the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission votes on the matter.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (a threemember panel of the NRC) has already given it’s nod of approval (2-1) for Private Fuel Storage to temporarily house 4,000 casks of spent nuclear fuel rods on the reservation but that doesn’t mean the entire NRC will concur with the recommendation.

In an effort to sway the vote against allowing the project, Utah’s two senators (Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett) and three Congressmen (Jim Matheson, Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop) sent a letter to NRC Chairman Nils Diaz last week stating their opposition to the site.

“Due to the possibility of an accidental or deliberate aircraft crash, concerns over the safety of the waste during transportation and storage, and uncertainty regarding liability, the Utah Congressional delegation strongly opposes the granting of this license,” wrote the delegation. “We expect the Commission to review the administrative record diligently prior to making a final decision on issuing a license to PFS and accordingly reject it.”

The letter noted that the proposed site for the PFS facility is located directly under the flight path of combat aircraft, many carrying live ordnance, entering the Utah Test and Training Range. The Delegation expressed concern over the possibility of an aircraft accident at the proposed storage site. “However, we are even more disturbed by the poor data and selective scientific approach used by PFS in claiming that such an accident would not pose a significant risk to the site.”

“The PFS proposal is a reckless, short-term fix for a pressing national problem,” said Sen. Hatch. “We’re going to fight this with everything we’ve got.

He added, “They picked the most dangerous site in the nation to locate most of our nation’s high-level nuclear waste. That’s not political rhetoric — it’s a fact. The NRC needs to realize that PFS will never be able to ensure that the Skull Valley site will be safe.”

“I strongly oppose any decision that would allow storage of nuclear waste in Skull Valley,” Sen. Bennett said. “I continue to believe our best course is to store the waste at its current locations until Yucca Mountain is ready. It doesn’t make sense to move it twice. It’s a bad decision, and we will continue to fight it every step of the way.”

“The potential granting of this license so close to a major military installation just doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Rob Bishop. “This storage site could limit the future value of the Utah Test and Training Range, a key military asset, and in turn prove problematic as we try and meet the future defense needs of this nation.”

During the same time frame that the Utah delegation letter was sent, Scientists for Secure Waste Storage (a group which includes four Nobel Laureates, two former chairmen of the NRC, and a former astronaut) sent their own letter to the NRC — but their letter was in favor of the site.

“We write to you because we have been led to understand that last week one or both United States senators from the state of Utah met with officials at the White House to urge the President to override the decision of the ASLB Atomic Safety and Licensing Board) and, if necessary, of the commission itself.”

The letter continued, “We urge that the administration not cave in to this political pressure, and allow the regulatory process to take its course.”

“We note that the state of Utah has been an active and vigorous participant in that process, and should not now try to circumvent it.”

Other parts of the letter referred to matters such as respecting the Goshute’s decision, and increasing the nation’s reliance on nuclear power by reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

A date has yet to be set for the final NRC vote.

If the PFS license is approved, the state plans to appeal the decision, but if the license is denied, PFS has said it plans to make their own appeal.

If approved, PFS would soon begin site construction.

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