Guv calls feds out on waste
With the prospect of highly radioactive waste crossing Utah's borders, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. talked tough Monday.
Huntsman plans to push federal legislation, pester President Bush and his Cabinet and appeal to federal court over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license for a nuclear storage site on an Indian reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
"This is the most reckless thing I have ever heard our [federal] government wanting to do in this state," Huntsman said in an interview. "If I have to stand in front of the train coming across the border, I'm prepared to do that."
Two previous governors opposed a consortium of eight nuclear power companies' plan to store up to 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel on the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes reservation in Tooele County. And after eight years of wrangling - in Congress and before the commission - Huntsman faces the prospect of trying to finish the fight.
The governor did not detail many specifics of his plan. He has asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to "unilaterally cancel the lease." He supports U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's legislation requiring on-site storage of the waste at the nuclear power plants that produce it. He has raised the possible threat of a terrorist attack on the site with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. And he believes a court appeal will "ensure that nothing happens imminently."
Huntsman has determined trainloads of used nuclear fuel rods will not enter the state on his watch.
"There isn't [another] issue as important as this one as far as I'm concerned," Huntsman said. "We need something that closes this off other than just by legal means. We are talking about a public-policy fix. But it is premature to say what that magic bullet could be."
Right now, the most public sign of the state's fight likely will be in court - with a challenge to the NRC's licensing decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver or Washington.
Dianne Nielson, director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said the state is looking forward to pressing its case in federal court, which is the next step for challenging any final NRC decision.
"We think it will be a less biased forum," Nielson said. "We're prepared and expected to be in court."
In addition to securing funding for the legal fight from the Legislature, the state is continuing its work with the public-private Nuclear Opposition (NO!) Coalition.
"They have not met for a long time, but they are still a force," she said.
Private Fuel Storage spokeswoman Sue Martin said it was no surprise the state would appeal the license. Martin said PFS was surprised by the wording in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' statement last week that nuclear waste storage "requires thorough scrutiny."
"The first thing that came to my mind is: 'What has the past eight years been about, if it hasn't been about intense scrutiny?' " she said.
"The state of Utah has represented its citizens well by raising all of the tough questions that have been the topic of many hours of hearings before the [NRC]. All of those questions have been addressed to the satisfaction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
But the governor figures the public opposition of LDS Church leaders can't hurt the state's case. Still, he has no plans to involve the church officially in the battle.
"Just the fact that they have taken a position on it will resonate with many both in state and out," Huntsman said.
Jason Groenewold, director of the Health Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL), met with the governor to talk strategy Monday.
He said Huntsman stressed the importance of building alliances with the state of Nevada and others.
Keeping high-level nuclear waste out of Utah appears to be one of the governor's top priorities, Groenewold said.
"He's not taking it lightly," he added. "Clearly he wants to fight this thing with everything he's got."
Tribune reporter Matt Canham contributed to this report.