Federal Board Rejects Utah's Appeal of Nuclear Dump on Reservation
SALT LAKE CITY A federal licensing board on Tuesday rejected Utah's appeal to thwart the stockpiling of spent nuclear fuel rods at an American Indian reservation.
The state had argued in April that radiation could escape from waste casks if an outer protective shield was breached, even if the interior canister holding the fuel rods remained fully intact.
But lawyers for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Utah's argument was too late and lacked scientific merit, advising the three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to reject it.
Although turning aside the state's argument, the board suggested the NRC study whether radioactive waste could leak from a cask that was damaged but not breached.
The ruling clears the way for the NRC to approve the project, which would create a temporary waste dump for spent rods on the reservation pending the opening of a national repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. It was not immediately clear when the commission would issue its final decision.
The Goshute Indian tribe has sought the waste station at its reservation in Skull Valley, about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, hoping to earn as much as $3 million. The tribe is teaming with Private Fuel Storage to build the station, which would store more than 40,000 tons of nuclear waste.
The state had previously argued that the proposed waste station's proximity to an Air Force base increased the risk of a fighter jet crashing into the spent fuel rods. The licensing board dismissed that scenario as unlikely.
The state also contended that rods could end up permanently in Utah because the Energy Department isn't obligated to transport them to Nevada, but the board rejected that argument in February.
Gov. Jon Huntsman's legal counsel, Mike Lee, said the governor was disappointed with Tuesday's ruling but "remains firm in his resolve to fight this battle at every possible front."
He said the state is pursuing various options, including appeals in the courts and with the NRC, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
PFS spokeswoman Sue Martin said the company was pleased the process was moving forward.
"All of these challenges and the additional hearings and things like that that have gone on for the last eight years is evidence of how rigorous this process is," she said.
The issue has wound its way through the courts since Skull Valley Band Tribal Chairman Leon Bear signed a lease in 1997 allowing PFS to store the fuel on Goshute land.
The planned underground nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain has also endured a string of problems. The Energy Department recently abandoned a 2010 completion date and did not set a new one.
Source: Associated Press