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Measure on N-waste storage clears a hurdle in Senate

Importing nuclear waste would bring jobs and money to Utah, and state lawmakers are overreacting to a proposal to store spent nuclear fuel rods in Tooele County.

Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River City, made those assertions Tuesday in the first floor debate of SB196, which would place significant restraints and financial requirements on any party wishing to store high-level nuclear waste in Utah.A handful of senators sided with Holmgren, but the Senate voted 22-6 to give preliminary approval to the measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Craig Peterson.

The Senate also gave preliminary approval to a scaled-down version of SB144. It increases the fee the state charges for storage of low-level radioactive waste from $2.50 per ton to $15 per ton. The vote was 27-1 with only Holmgren opposed.

Holmgren, fresh from a conversation with a scientist who believes spent fuel rods can be stored and transported safely, urged his colleagues to oppose SB196 because nuclear waste could "solve many of our problems."

"It's not dangerous. It's not a gas. It's not a liquid. It's a solid, and it's in containers that have been moved, proven (and) upgraded for over 20 years," Holmgren said during a 15-minute speech to colleagues.

"I know there's a (federal) fund with several billion dollars in it, and I know it's negotiable. Could the state benefit from (nuclear waste storage)? I don't think there's any question if we went after this aggressively. . . . I think all of you need to back up and think a little bit about why you are voting the way you are voting on this issue."

Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of Midwest and Southern utility companies, wants to store spent nuclear fuel rods temporarily on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Tooele County.

In his arguments, Holmgren said allowing the waste to be stored on Indian land isn't a good idea either because it would take revenue away from the state.

Holmgren also happens to represent Box Elder County, where there is a separate proposal, backed by Holladay engineer Bill Peterson, to build a private storage facility for nuclear waste south of Grouse Creek near the Nevada border.

Joining Holmgren in voting against SB196 Tuesday were Sen. Nathan Tanner, R-South Ogden; Sen. Lorin Jones, R-Veyo; Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem; Sen. Howard Nielson, R-Provo; and Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Tay-lors-ville.

Officials representing Private Fuel Storage and the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes were to debate lawmakers on the issue Wednesday afternoon in the state office building north of the Capitol.

SB144, which originally asked the Legislature to permit a second low-level radioactive waste storage facility in Tooele County, was rewritten and reintroduced Tuesday as a bill raising the per-ton fee from $2.50 to $6. But an amendment by Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, to increase the fee 500 percent to $15 was endorsed by a majority of senators.

"Other states are taking these kinds of things and raising a lot more in taxes" and using much of it for education, Taylor said. "My amendment ought to be $50 a ton and that still wouldn't be too high."