Critics of radioactive waste "down-blending" made a last-ditch attempt Tuesday to get the practice outlawed, but failed during the final meeting of the Radiation Control Board.
Under a new law that kicked in Tuesday, the board will officially disband June 30 and be replaced by a smaller board with fewer health professionals next fall. The current board won’t meet again.
Members of the public and even some of the board’s 13 members lamented the lack of time to begin looking at proposed wording for a ban on blended radioactive waste. A few mentioned that, although the board was allowing the Division of Radiation Control to carry out the letter of the law by permitting some blended waste already, the spirit of Utah’s law is being violated.
"This is sham disposal of [higher-hazard] B&C waste enabled by a regulatory wordsmith," said Stephen Nelson, a former board chairman who served on the panel for 10 years, in criticizing the panel’s decision not to consider a ban. "The emperor has no clothes."
Board members agreed not to take up a blended-waste ban proposed by the Healthy Environment Alliance (HEAL). Instead, they stood by the Radiation Control Division’s decision to allow EnergySolutions Inc. to accept for disposal up to 40,000 cubic feet of blended waste each year while it prepares a site study showing that the practice is safe, even for large volumes of the unusual waste.
HEAL’s Matt Pacenza pressed the board to get working on a regulation to prevent waste that started out as too hot for Utah to be mixed with lower-hazard waste — waste that the law does permit at the EnergySolutions site.
"We think you need to do something now if you don’t want to be ignored and brushed aside," said Pacenza, urging the board, comprising members who have the benefit of years’ worth of discussion of down-blending, to act before it’s dissolved. He complained that his group had been dissuaded until the 11th hour — too late, as it turned out — from proposing a new regulation on the controversial blending.
But Amanda Smith, Department of Environmental Quality director, dismissed Pancenza’s complaint.
"Legally, you have always been free to petition for rule-making," she told him, noting that it wasn’t the board’s or the Radiation Control Division’s job to advise him of the legal options.
The board two years ago made the distinction between the letter of the law and the state’s policy on radiation in a position statement. In it, board members noted that waste blending might not pose a specific public health danger.
But, the position statement said: "The board is opposed to waste blending when the intent is to alter the waste classification for the purposes of disposal-site access." In other words, the board objected to efforts to bring orphaned, higher-hazard, low-level nuclear power-plant waste from 36 other states as a policy end-run around a ban on those wastes enacted by the Utah Legislature in 2005.
EnergySolutions Vice President Tom Magette noted at Tuesday’s meeting that board members had opted against trying to ban blended waste in the past. He also indicated that besides being perfectly legal, what the company is doing is safe.
"This is a more stable waste stream," he said.
The Radiation Control Board is the first of five DEQ panels being disbanded under SB21, a bill by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. A new board, smaller than the existing one and with three fewer health professionals, will be seated in the fall.
Under a second new law, SB11, also sponsored by Dayton, appeals of division directors’ decisions will no longer be heard by boards made up mostly of non-government members — but by the director of environmental quality.
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