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Governors to target N-waste
3-day meeting starts today in Jackson

Just because you have to work doesn't mean you can't do it someplace with drop-dead gorgeous surroundings.

That seems to be the strategy of Western governors who, beginning today, will meet for three days near Jackson, Wyo., to discuss a wide range of regional issues ranging from the Endangered Species Act to nuclear waste and oil and gas development.It's the annual spring meeting of the Western Governors Association, and this year Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and the other governors will be camped at the famous Jackson Lake Lodge.

The land of Yellowstone, photogenic moose and fly fishing at the foot of the Grand Tetons.

Leavitt insists it will be all work. He has already packed a briefcase full of resolutions on various Utah issues, and he needs the support of fellow Western governors to create a united front.

"When we get into the position of going to Congress, we want to formally advocate a unified position," Leavitt said. "It's important we (Western states) stand together."

This year, Leavitt's top priority is a resolution, co-sponsored with Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada, that targets the storage of high-level nuclear waste.

Nevada has been targeted as a permanent repository for the waste, and a consortium of private nuclear power utilities are proceeding with plans to build a temporary storage facility about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Leavitt has taken an "over my dead body" approach to the Utah proposal. But Utah has little power to single-handedly change the course of what is a national debate over the future of nuclear waste. That's why it is so important, Leavitt said, that all Western states stand united.

It's not just a Utah issue or a Nevada issue, Leavitt says. "In many, many cases, nuclear waste will be transported through those other states. They should care."

All the fuss in the Western states over nuclear waste can be traced to the federal government's failure to come up with a permanent solution to permanent storage. A 1982 law required they have a facility in place, but the Department of Energy failed to meet the deadlines.

Scientists are studying a proposal to locate a permanent nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the site has not been approved by Congress. Even if it were, it would be another eight to 10 years before it opens.

That's why private utility companies, whose temporary storage facilities are at or nearing capacity, want to store the waste in concrete casks on Goshute tribal lands in Tooele County.

Leavitt has vigorously opposed that move but acknowledges the utilities are not the only ones to blame.

"The governors find that as a result of federal government inaction and delays, and inadequate strategic planning involving stakeholders, a national transportation system for commercial spent fuel is not presently available," the resolution states.

The Department of Energy has offered an olive branch to both sides by agreeing to take title to the waste and pay for temporary on-site storage of the waste at the nuclear power plants until a permanent facility is built. The utilities have balked at on-site storage.

According to the Leavitt-sponsored resolution, Western governors would officially support the DOE policy.

"Moreover, the federal government should not site such waste in a state for interim storage without written agreement from the affected states' governors," the proposed resolution states.

The governors also want the federal government to examine alternative waste storage options, including paying utilities for on-site storage.

The governors are insisting that states have a major role in deciding how waste is stored and transported.

"The governors strongly encourage the U.S. Department of Energy to work cooperatively with the states in implementing this policy; to ensure the safe storage, transportation and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste; and to comply with agreements which have been negotiated and entered into by a state's governor regarding the management, transportation and storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste," the resolution states.

The issue certainly has the attention of the Western governors. The DOE in Idaho has begun shipping some lower-level radioactive waste to a facility in New Mexico. High-level nuclear waste will remain on site in southeastern Idaho until a permanent facility is built.

Considerable amounts of nuclear waste in Washington, California and Arizona are also awaiting permanent storage. Most Western states are concerned they could become a major transportation corridor for shipments of waste to Yucca Mountain, and that presents a whole spectrum of safety problems.

The resolution also demands:

The federal government and utility companies, not the states, pay for all costs associated with safe transport of the waste, including safety and emergency response training.

No shipments of nuclear waste be made until the DOE, in cooperation with the states, identifies transportation routes, and that the routes be identified at least three years before the first shipment.

The DOE develop a tracking system to monitor the location and status of waste casks, and to notify state, local and tribal governments of the status of waste shipments.

The DOE not privatize or delegate to a contractor the shipment of nuclear waste.

Other issues of interest to Utahns will be on the Western Governors Association agenda. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has a resolution supporting Utah's efforts to host the 2002 Winter Olympics and recognizing the opportunity for other Western states to participate.

Governors will also talk about green space preservation, water rights, resolution of environmental disputes and new telemedicine programs.