A bill that modifies state rules for the classification and acceptance of low-level radioactive waste has passed the state House and Senate and is on its way to the governor’s desk.
House Bill 220 passed the Senate on Feb. 21 with a 23-6 vote. The next day the House concurred with amendments to HB 220 approved by the Senate, clearing the way for the bill to be sent to Gov. Gary Herbert.
The bill has two purposes: To provide clarity for a policy question and to implement a science-based site and waste specific acceptance model for evaluating and decision making about low-level radioactive waste acceptance, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carl Albrecht, R- Salt Lake City.
“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.”
Opponents of HB 220 believe the determination that waste classification at time of acceptance is a way to get around a state ban on class B and C low-level radioactive waste, opens the door to depleted uranium being disposed of in the state.
Depleted uranium, a by-product of uranium enrichment, is considered class A low-level radioactive waste by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But over time it exceeds the radioactivity of class B and C waste, according to Matt McCarty, a chemist and a resident of Tooele County.
“Don’t rush into this,” McCarty told the senate committee that considered HB 220. “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.”
Along with the provision that waste is classified at the time it is accepted, the bill states that class B and C low-level radioactive waste may not be accepted by a facility in the state.
The bill requires the director of the Division of Waste Management and Waste Control to classify low-level radioactive waste for disposal based on an evaluation of the specific characteristics of the waste, disposal site, and method of disposal. If, after considering those factors, the director finds that with reasonable assurance the waste can be disposed of with compliance to safety standards and dose limits, it may be accepted by the facility.
The bill allows the Waste Management and Radiation Control Board to adopt rules to implement the provisions of the bill. It also allows 90 days for a legislative review of the director’s decision.
The bill singles out depleted uranium with additional requirements for acceptance. Prior to the acceptance of over a metric ton of depleted uranium, not only is a performance assessment required, the federal government must take ownership and accept permanent stewardship for the waste and the land where it will be disposed.
The bill also imposes a 12 percent tax on the gross receipts from concentrated depleted uranium, a 10 percent tax on gross receipts from containerized waste, and a 5 percent tax from gross receipts from uncontainerized waste received under the provisions of the bill.
Passed by the House and the Senate, HB 220 now goes to Herbert for his action. The state constitution gives the governor 20 days from the end of the legislative session to take action on bills approved by both houses. The governor may sign the bill or veto the bill. If he takes no action by the end of the 20-day time limit, the bill becomes law without his signature.
So far the state Legislature has passed 140 bills during the 2019 general session. The governor has signed nine of them: eight budget related bills and the Medicaid expansion adjustments bill.