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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(March 4, 2005) In the U.S. anti nuclear activist celebrated a Utah state law banning dumping of radioactive waste with higher levels of contamination in the Envirocare "low-level" waste dump, but were taken by surprise one day earlier by the decision to reverse a two year old NRC ruling that the risk of accidental military aircraft crashes into the proposed PFS storage for high-level waste was too high.

(623.5662) NIRS - On Feb. 25, anti-nuclear activists celebrated a hard-won victory: a state law banning the dumping of higher-activity radioactive waste in Utah. The "Envirocare" "low" level radioactive waste dump west of Salt Lake City has long accepted Class A wastes (mostly contaminated soils and other nuclear reactor debris) from across the U.S., but also has tried for years to obtain permission to accept Class B and C wastes (thousands of times more radioactive than Class A).

Attending Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.'s signing ceremony for the new law, Jason Groenewold, executive director of HEAL (Healthy Environmental Alliance of) Utah - a leader of the grassroots fight for the ban -- said "It's a huge accomplishment and a great victory for the citizens of this state, because had the public not been involved and concerned about nuclear waste disposal, we never would have gotten to the point where nuclear waste was banned." (1)

Marring the celebration, however, was the previous day's rulings by a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) that dismissed the State of Utah's final two remaining contentions against the proposed Private Fuel Storage (PFS) "interim site" for 44,000 tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel targeted at the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation (45 miles west of Salt Lake City, and already long surrounded by numerous other toxic facilities). In a 2-1 split decision, the ASLB judges reversed their own earlier decision of March 2003 that the risk of accidental military aircraft crashes into PFS was too high (see the present ruling, including the minority's blistering dissent, at The ASLB also dismissed the state's contention that PFS would not be "temporary," but would become a de facto permanent high-level waste storage site, despite Department of Energy statements. that it would not accept PFS wastes at its proposed, troubled Yucca Mountain burial dump in Nevada. Contradicting its own ruling, the ASLB indicated that PFS may store waste for not just 40 years, but perhaps a century or longer! The rulings conclude the ASLB proceeding begun in June, 1997 in which 125 contentions against the dump were ultimately resolved in favor of PFS. This paves the way for the five member NRC Commission to order a license for the PFS site.

Undaunted, UT will appeal the ASLB decisions to the Commissioners by mid-March. The Commission, which has pushed for an expedited decision on the PFS license for years, could rule as early as the end of March, although the timing is not clear. Utah could, if necessary, appeal to the federal courts, as well as to U.S. Dept. of Interior agencies which must approve PFS's lease agreement with the Goshute tribe and waste transport plans in Skull Valley. (2) PFS CEO John Parkyn hailed the ASLB ruling as "a great advancement for the nuclear industry in America." (3) Groenewold responded "The feds are trying to say with a straight face that we should not worry about what happens if a jet crashes into [PFS], which is like saying don't worry about what happens if Charles Manson moves into your neighborhood." (4) Long-time leader of the opposition to the dump within the tribe, Margene Bullcreek, said "We're concerned with health, but it's also the land we believe in. I think this could destroy whatever sacredness is there." (5) Leading to charges of environmental racism, since 1987 scores of Native American tribes have been targeted by the nuclear establishment for a "Monitored Retrievable Storage" high-level radioactive waste dump, but only PFS at Skull Valley has ever proceeded this far.
Individuals and groups can sign a letter (see to the NRC Commissioners urging denial of the PFS license by emailing their name, group (if any), city, state, and country to as soon as possible.

(1) "Governor Huntsman Puts Signature On Ban of Hotter Waste," KSL-TV, Feb. 25, 2005.
(2) Patty Henetz, "Utah loses key battle over N-waste," Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 25.
(3) "Spent (sic) Nuclear Fuel Storage Site Recommended for Licensing," Dairyland Power Cooperative press release, Feb. 24, 2005.
(4) N.S. Nokkentved, "Board rejects risk of jet crash," (Provo) Daily Herald, Feb. 25, 2005.
(5) Kirk Johnson, "A Tribe, Nimble and Determined, Moves Ahead With Nuclear Storage Plan," New York Times, Feb. 28, 2005.

Contact: Kevin Kamps at NIRS