Deseret Morning News, Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Utah slams door on hotter waste

Envirocare says Bennett's latest plan is overkill

By Lee Davidson and Donna Kemp Spangler
Deseret Morning News

WASHINGTON — To lock a door that Envirocare already shut on itself, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, persuaded House-Senate negotiators Monday to bar federal officials from forcing shipment of "hotter" radioactive waste to the company's Utah facilities.

"We're changing the law so that Utah will be making the decisions for our state, not the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission)," he said.

Bennett, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, did that by adding a provision to a large, combined spending bill that governs funding for most federal departments over the next year. The House and Senate must still approve that bill but are expected to do so easily.

Ironically, protests first erupted over the issue when Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, (a former Envirocare lobbyist) put a provision in a different spending bill to reclassify as commercial some federal uranium waste now stored in Ohio — to allow its possible transfer to Utah. It is "hotter" than uranium tailings that Envirocare has brought to Utah previously.

The issue split politicians in Utah — and led to vicious political attacks against Bishop. Heavy protests, media coverage and political deals that would delay waste transfers led Envirocare last month to say it is withdrawing its application.

Envirocare officials say it's a moot point.

"We have made that decision previously to not pursue this waste," said company spokeswoman Bette Arial.

Bennett said his new provision helps ensure that the company cannot change its mind.

"I agree with Gov. (Olene) Walker that no waste should be stored in Utah that is any hotter than that which has been disposed and processed here for the past 15 years," Bennett said.

"I believe that state officials, not federal, should make the decisions about how much and how hot. This language takes the NRC out of the driver's seat so that Utah officials determine Utah's involvement," he said.

Anti-nuclear waste activists who fought against the waste are somewhat skeptical.

"We're glad," said Claire Geddes of Utah Legislative Watch. "The problem is we don't want it. . . . I would have been much happier if (Bennett's language) would have said, 'Utahns don't want this waste' and leave it at that."

Specifically, the provision says the NRC shall not permit any facility to receive "11e.(2) by-product material" from Energy Department sites in Ohio and New York if the new storage facility is in a state that has applied for "full agreement" status seeking regulatory oversight for uranium mill tailings from the NRC. Utah has applied for that.

Bishop said Bennett "didn't talk to me ahead of time" about the new provision, "But I'm OK with it. It codifies the agreement we had already reached with the NRC and Envirocare . . . so I'm obviously supportive."

Bennett said the language allows cleanup of the Energy Department wastes to continue — but gives Utah the power to decide whether it may come to the state.

Envirocare initially hoped to bid to transfer 8,890 cubic yards of the "hotter" radioactive waste to Utah. Officials have said the waste may still pass through the state and end up at the Nevada Test Site for permanent storage.


© 2003 Deseret News Publishing Company

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