Bill that could pave the way for EnergySolutions to accept depleted uranium advances

(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.

A panel of state senators on Thursday pushed forward a proposal that could clear the way for the permanent disposal of depleted uranium in Utah.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Carl Albrecht, told the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee that the waste in question needs to be safely stored, and he believes EnergySolutions has the ability to do the job at the company’s Clive facility in Tooele County.

“They’re a state-of-the-art facility, and they’re going to comply with DEQ [Utah Department of Environmental Quality] requirements and state requirements and federal requirements,” Albrecht, R-Richfield, said.

But environmental groups are firmly opposed to the bill, and DEQ’s executive director also showed up to Thursday’s hearing to convey Gov. Gary Herbert’s reservations about the legislation.

For instance, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now looking at best practices for dealing with depleted uranium but hasn't yet finalized any rules, Alan Matheson, DEQ's executive director said.

"There's a concern that we could get ahead of or in conflict with federal law," Matheson testified, although he said Herbert is not opposing the bill outright.

Meanwhile, DEQ is nearly finished with a seven-year assessment of EnergySolutions’ ability to safely dispose of the depleted uranium stockpiled at federal sites. Democrats on the Senate panel asked why Albrecht’s bill couldn’t wait at least until the completion of this assessment.

“I’m worried about bringing in other people’s waste. I think we have a responsibility when it’s our waste, but ... depleted uranium scares me,” said Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City.

Albrecht's measure changes a section of law governing the types of radioactive waste permitted into the state. The law prohibits Class B and C radioactive waste — the most hazardous categories — from acceptance but allows the less-dangerous Class A.

Depleted uranium is not as hazardous as most Class A waste, but over time, it becomes even hotter than Class B and C waste.

HB220, however, requires waste to be classified at the time of acceptance, a provision that critics fear amounts to an end-run around the state’s ban on more hazardous types of waste.

The Senate committee Thursday voted to give the bill a favorable recommendation, with Iwamoto and Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, dissenting. The legislation, which passed the House earlier this week, will now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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