Legislative bid to bar N-waste in Utah fails

By Robert Gehrke
The Salt Lake Tribune

WASHINGTON - A bid to block nuclear waste from being stored on the Skull Valley Indian Reservation failed late Thursday as senators objected to its inclusion in a sweeping defense bill.
   The provision, backed by the entire Utah delegation, would have created the 100,000-acre Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area, preventing the Bureau of Land Management from approving a rail line needed to ship the highly radioactive material from nuclear reactors to the proposed facility in Utah's west desert.
   Rep. Rob Bishop was not conceding defeat, saying, “Until the session ends, I'm not giving up.”
   House members agreed to include the provision in the defense bill, but it was not part of the version that the Senate approved in July. It remained a sticking point between the two chambers, and ultimately the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, R-Va., and the ranking Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, won out.
   The final language of the defense bill, without the Utah wilderness and test and training range provisions, is expected to be submitted this morning and approved by the House and Senate this afternoon.
   “Of course I'm disappointed that it's not going in,” said Rep. Jim Matheson. “This is not the end. . . . I think there still is an opportunity and I think we've got to push as hard as we can to make this happen.”
   While Congress plans to adjourn until after the election, there are plans for members to return for several days in November. It is possible that the wilderness bill could be added to a high-priority bill.
   The wilderness idea was first hatched in 2001 and sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, but it failed amid objections from the environmental community and Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign.
   This time, Bishop was able to bridge differences with environmentalists, who lobbied on behalf of the bill.
   The Cedar Mountain Wilderness is habitat to mule deer, antelope, coyote and other wildlife. It lies beneath the Utah Test and Training Range, a sprawling Air Force training facility.
   Private Fuels Storage, a consortium of nuclear power generators, is seeking a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that would allow them to store as much as 40,000 tons of the nuclear fuel rods in steel and concrete casks on the Skull Valley Goshute reservation until Yucca Mountain is completed.

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