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U.S. nuclear waste: Utahns say "enough is enough"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 17, 2002) There is a direct relationship between the vitality and capacity of a community's civic environment and the health of its natural environment. A dysfunctional civic environment not only fails to defend itself against the abuse of its natural environment, it invites that abuse. Such is the case in Tooele County specifically, and Utah generally, where our deserts have become the rug under which the nation's toxic wastes are swept.

(568.5404) Families Against Incinerator Risk - Utah's West Desert has become one of the largest environmental sacrifice zones in the country. Besides having the largest toxic air polluter in the country (MagCorp), Utah's West Desert is burdened with the largest emitter of toxins to the environment (Kennecott), half the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons and two chemical weapons incinerators, a hazardous waste incinerator, a massive radioactive waste landfill, a hazardous waste landfill, a proving ground for biological and chemical warfare agents (much of it contaminated with unexploded ordinance and anthrax spores), a bombing range the size of Rhode Island, and an Army depot with a large underground plume of carcinogenic water.

Currently, there are two active nuclear waste proposals by Private Fuel Storage (PFS) and Envirocare that would make Utah the nation's dumping ground for nuclear waste. PFS wants to park 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods above ground on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Additionally, Envirocare is seeking legislative and gubernatorial approval to dump dismantled nuclear reactors in their radioactive waste landfill 60 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Everywhere you look, it seems like those in a position to decide if Envirocare should be allowed to dump nuclear waste in Utah have accepted money from the company. It first came to light with the declaration by Larry Anderson that he had accepted over $600,000 in cash, gold coins and real estate from Envirocare owner Khosrow Semnani while he was the Director of the Utah Division of Radiation Control (DRC). Anderson was charged with extortion, while Semnani was investigated for bribery. Semnani pled guilty to the most lenient sentence allowed under Federal guidelines and agreed to pay a $100,000 fine. Anderson is now serving a 2 1/2 year jail term.

During the Larry Anderson trial, it was revealed that former Utah Governor Norm Bangerter accepted a $65,000 "personal loan", State Senator Stephen Rees accepted $108,000, and a member of the DRC Board accepted a personal loan of $15,000. They're not alone. Governor Mike Leavitt and his campaign funds have accepted over $85,000 from Envirocare in campaign contributions, and many of the Utah legislators have accepted money as well. The former chairman of the Utah DRC Board was hired by Envirocare to head their operations in Texas, and the former Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality is now the President for Envirocare.

Having seen that Envirocare had gone to great lengths to grease the skids for legislative and gubernatorial approval, a new group, Utahns for Radioactive Waste Control, was formed to launch a ballot initiative that would prevent Envirocare from accepting higher-levels of radioactive waste. Specifically, it would prevent "Class B & C" waste from being disposed of in Utah. Almost 70,000 petition signatures are needed by June 3, 2002 in order to qualify for the November election.

The Radioactive Waste Restrictions Act - What it will do

  1. Prevent higher-levels of radioactive waste from being disposed of in Utah.
  2. Reform Regulatory Oversight of Radioactive Waste Disposal.
  3. Use taxes from radioactive wastes currently disposed of in Utah to support the Education, Environment, and Ethics Fund, and a homeless endowment fund.

So why are 84% of Utah residents opposed to Envirocare's attempt to accept higher-levels of radioactive waste? According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, unshielded exposure to "Class C" radioactive waste can "cause a lethal radiation dose, based on a 20-minute exposure at a 3 foot distance."1

  • None of the waste would come from Utah.2
  • Over 80% would come from nuclear reactors.3
  • Less than .01% is medical waste.4

Envirocare claims that the increase in taxes will force them out of business. However, Envirocare accepts over 97% of the 'low-level' commercial radioactive waste disposed of in the United States.5 Only 2 other sites currently accept these types of wastes: Washington and South Carolina. By 2008, S. Carolina will only accept wastes from a few locations on the East Coast. Washington only accepts waste from a few states in the northwest. More than 40 states will be looking for a place to dump their waste, and will have no other option other than to send their waste to Envirocare.

Each of the six previous commercial radioactive waste disposal sites has leaked radiation into the environment. Four of these sites are now closed.6 Some are now undergoing multi-million dollar clean-up projects.

Prior to 2001, Envirocare did not have to pay taxes to the State of Utah. Only a regulatory fee of $2.50 per ton was applied to radioactive waste.7 Taxes assessed by the State would go towards textbooks, reduced class sizes, scholarships, & helping the homeless.

To the extent that we allow Utah's West Desert to become the enabler for a toxic economy, we encourage a collective behavior that is self-destructive. Burying yesterday's hazardous waste so that even more lethal waste can be produced only postpones the day of reckoning. Utahns are saying enough is enough, and are encouraging people to support any attempt to keep nuclear waste from being transported through our front yards to be dumped in our back yards.


  1. U.S. General Accounting Office, Report RCED-98-40R, Radioactive Waste: Answers to Questions Related to the Proposed Ward Valley Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility, May 22, 1998.
  2. Envirocare statement. Salt Lake City Mayoral Debate, March 15, 2001.
  3. ibid.
  4. Marvin Resnikoff, PhD, Living Without Landfills, A Special Report of the Radioactive Waste Campaign; Published by Radioactive Waste Campaign, New Your, NY 1987. Dr. Resnikoff is the expert the State of Utah hired in their case against the Skull Valley nuclear waste storage site.
  5. Office of the [Utah] Legislative Fiscal Analyst. Low-Level Radioactive Waste Issues, February 13, 2001.
  6. See note 4, supra.
  7. See note 5, supra

Source and contact: Jason Groenewold, Director, Families Against Incinerator Risk, 68 S. Main Street, Suite 400, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, USA Tel: +1 801 355 5055
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