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WYOMING BILL COULD HURT AN N-WASTE SITE IN UTAH

The Wyoming Legislature is poised to pass a bill that would pave the way for the country's second commercial low-level nuclear waste disposal facility - which would siphon business from the first, located in Tooele County.

Under the bill that passed the Wyoming House this week and was approved by the Senate Minerals Committee on Thursday, that state could license a landfill to accept what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies as "NORM" - naturally occurring radioactive materials.The bill is likely to pass the Senate next week, said Roger Fransen, legal and natural resource specialist for Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan. Because Sullivan has championed the bill, unless it is amended he is certain to approve it.

Whether the facility would increase transportation of NORM through Utah or simply short-stop uranium tailings and the like before they get to the border is an open question.

What is clear is that Wyoming is on a fast track to approve a site that could compete with Envirocare of Utah, based at Clive, Tooele County.

"You all have the Envirocare facility in Utah, and it's a similar sort of facility," said Fransen, contacted by telephone in Cheyenne, where the Wyoming Legislature is scheduled to end its session next week.He acknowledged that Sullivan has supported the bill.

But Fransen added, "Support for this bill is not the same thing as support for siting a facility. We're not to the stage yet where we have an application" by a company.

He said the bill would improve the state's ability to regulate such a landfill. "It provides for a fee structure to be established by the Department of Environmental Quality here, and ensures that the facility will come under the State Industrial Siting Act."

The bill also calls for payment of a $45,000 "pre-application fee," plus additional fees in amounts not yet determined.

"We don't have an application and so can't predict exactly what these folks want to do," he said. "But there are a number of uranium mill disposal sites in Wyoming, and this is similar material."

As the country's only NORM facility, Envirocare has had shipments from across the country.

Asked whether Utahns should be concerned that nuclear traffic would increase along this state's highways and railroads, Fransen replied, "I'd point out for our part, we've got trainloads of this stuff headed for Utah and truckloads that cross southern Wyoming.

"It's (disposing of radioactive material) a problem that we all share and I guess nobody likes very much, but I don't know how to make the stuff go away. It won't disappear."

Joan Edwards, a Sierra Club member in Salt Lake City who is active on issues involving radioactive material, said, "This is just such a competitive field, this hazardous and radioactive waste stuff.

"People like Envirocare and companies like U.S. Ecology are really in competition. It's cutthroat competition to get the contracts."

According to Edwards, as far as Utah is concerned, if Wyoming permits a NORM facility, "we might not get as much low-level radioactive waste as we otherwise would. Some of it will stop at Wyoming."

Stephanie Kessler of Lander, Wyo., the executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said the bill leaves gaping holes in the Wyoming regulatory structure.

"In fact, there is no regulation in the bill. All the bill does is set up a bunch of fees for permitting, inspection and long-term monitoring," she said.

"But Wyoming has no regulations in place for the management of low-level radioactive waste. The bill does not create any."

Because of that lack, she said, Wyoming regulators would be forced to fall back on solid waste rules for guidance.

Khosrow B. Semnani, president of Envirocare of Utah, said additional sites for disposal of NORM material are needed. "However, it needs to be done according to the applicable regulations and in an environmentally safe manner," he said.

Asked if the bill would allow higher-level waste than the low-level material accepted by Envirocare, Wyoming's Fransen said, "I don't think that that would happen."

Any higher-level material would have to go to a site licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he said.

Would the bill cause Wyoming to become a magnet for nuclear waste? "No more so than Utah already is with their site," Fransen said. "You know, who can predict the future? I don't think that would happen. Do you all feel like Utah has become a magnet?"