Utah Senate advances bill to accept depleted uranium in Utah

(Photo courtesy of EnergySolutions) In this 2015 courtesy photo, EnergySolutions is temporarily storing barrels of depleted uranium in a controlled warehouse at their Clive facility in Utah's west desert. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is finalizing its regulation for how this waste will be processed. It will eventually be buried in a cell at the Clive facility.

The Utah Senate took another step Wednesday toward allowing EnergySolutions to accept shipments of depleted uranium at its radioactive waste landfill near Grantsville in Tooele County.

Senators voted 23-6 to advance HB220, which signals state support for the company to take large amounts of a kind of low-level radioactive material that grows more hazardous over time.

EnergySolutions, based in Salt Lake City, is vying with competitors to take shipments of depleted uranium from government facilities in Ohio and Kentucky — but it still needs to complete a complex and expensive “performance assessment” by state regulators, which was launched in 2012 and is still underway.

HB220, which now advances to a final vote of the Senate, essentially assures EnergySolutions that if the company passes that assessment and also gains approval from the head of the state Division of Radiation Control, full state consent for the waste will be granted. Many of the bill’s vocal supporters are recipients of EnergySolutions campaign contributions while not a single one of the senators opposing it took such donations.

Supporters on the Senate floor played down safety worries over depleted uranium.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said the U.S. faces “a challenge with environmentally responsible ways of dealing with this waste” and that arguments depleted uranium could jeopardize aquifers or pose a public safety hazard on Utah’s roads “are no more valid now than they were 18 years ago.”

Sen. Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem, said depleted uranium was already used as a shield in transporting medical waste on public roads, while others noted its widespread use in smoke detectors and exit signs.

“And we are not, to my knowledge, dropping dead like flies from exposure,” Hemmert said. “This is the right thing to do. This is the responsible thing to do.”

But opponents warned of potential hazards from the waste and questioned the value of the change.