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Guv strikes deal on depleted uranium
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Energy Department hammered out a deal Thursday that lets a trainload of depleted uranium come to Utah but only for temporary storage -- for now.

Planned additional shipments of the low-level radioactive waste from the government's cleanup of the Savannah River, South Carolina, bomb-making facility are suspended pending a Utah site-safety review that is under way.

"We simply will not accept any more depleted uranium for storage in this state until we are convinced that we have addressed all the safety parameters," said Herbert.

The governor was unable to convince Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday to halt the shipment, but he called Thursday's agreement a "reasonable compromise."

The 5,408 barrels of DU, as the waste is called, already on the way could only go into the ground for permanent disposal after the state completes its site-safety review. Herbert secured the agreement two days after the first of three shipments began rolling from South Carolina on train cars headed for Utah.

When the trainload of DU arrives in Utah early next week, a state regulator will be on hand to check it. The barrels will be unloaded from the train and stored on site until the state finalizes two new requirements, probably over the next the next few months.

One is a license change that would mandate EnergySolutions Inc. to put up a surety bond to have the waste dug up and removed if it is eventually found to be unsafe. Another is a regulation change that requires an updated suitability review of the low-level radioactive waste landfill to make sure it can contain DU hazards for 10,000 years or longer.

Depleted uranium has the unusual quality of becoming more hazardous over time. It does not reach its full hazard level for at least 1 million years, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some of the additional protection measures could include the burial depth, dirt-and-rock cover and radon detection at EnergySolutions' site in Tooele County.

"None of this waste will be disposed of until the [state's] new, conservative criteria are in place," said Frank Marcinowski, deputy assistant secretary for regulatory compliance in the Energy Department's environmental management office.

Herbert, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, have been pressing the Energy Department to delay the Savannah River shipments until the state implemented the license and regulation changes.

Matheson said Thursday he was pleased with the Energy Department's decision as the "next best option" short of turning the train around.

"I remain strongly opposed to its disposal in a facility that is only engineered for 100-year storage of low-level radioactive waste," Matheson said. "I will continue to press the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an appropriate review of necessary safety standards for this waste, which essentially remains hazardous forever."

Marcinowski said he had talked with Utah regulators and representatives for Matheson and Herbert in recent months. Their concerns prompted his office to consider what steps could be taken to make Utah more comfortable with the disposal.

"We took those into account," Marcinowski said.

He also noted that his agency relies on the Utah disposal site for cleanup efforts agency wide, which include an estimated 700,000 tons of DU at various U.S. locations.

"Utah," Marcinowski said, "provides a great service to the country by accepting the waste."

Peter Jenkins, chairman of the Radiation Board, said he was encouraged to hear the Energy Department is "respecting the State's regulatory process."

"I don't think it would be in anyone's interest for us to feel rushed in making decisions regarding this waste based on incomplete or inadequate information," he said. "With these shipments temporarily on hold, we will be able to determine the most appropriate action prior to any potential disposal."

Jenkins noted that regulators will soon begin taking public comment on the proposed standards for determining whether the EnergySolutions site is suitable for large quantities of depleted uranium.

fahys@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">fahys@sltrib.com

Depleted uranium

EnergySolutions' Tooele County landfill for low-level radioactive waste already contains 49,000 tons of DU, and the recent controversy over it arose with a confusing decision by federal regulators last spring. The U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted, 2-1, in March to reaffirm that small amounts of DU are "Class A waste," which loses most of its radiological hazard in about 100 years. But the panel noted that large amounts are "a unique challenge" because the waste gets more hazardous for at least 1 million years. The NRC expects it will take years to determine minimum standards for large quantities of DU, then apply those new standards on a site-by-site basis. State regulators are developing interim safeguards for the waste buried in Utah.

Depleted Uranium

EnergySolutions' Tooele County landfill for low-level radioactive waste already contains 49,000 tons of DU, and the recent controversy over it arose with a confusing decision by federal regulators last spring. The U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted, 2-1, in March to reaffirm that small amounts of DU are "Class A waste," which loses most of its radiological hazard in about 100 years. But the panel noted that large amounts are "a unique challenge" because the waste gets more hazardous for at least 1 million years. The NRC expects it will take years to determine minimum standards for large quantities of DU, then apply those new standards on a site-by-site basis. State regulators are developing interim safeguards for the waste buried in Utah

Storage » Shipments will come, but only for temporary storage.
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