A bill that would keep commercial nuclear waste at nuclear reactors in 34 states until the establishment of a permanent storage site makes sense for Utah and any other state facing the threat of becoming a dumping ground.
The measure cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 14-6 vote Wednesday and now goes before the full Senate.Keeping the waste at the places that generated it not only makes the most sense but is the fair thing to do. Proponents of shipping the waste elsewhere keep reminding everyone how safe nuclear waste is. If indeed that is the case, those facilities that generate the waste would be safe for as long as it takes to construct a permanent site.
Utahns are well aware of the attempt by Private Fuel Storage, a consortium representing Midwestern and Eastern nuclear power plants, to ship nuclear waste from the East to the Goshute Indian Reservation, just 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.
Private Fuel Storage claims that would be only a temporary site until the permanent one is constructed -- hardly comforting news considering the proposed lease is for 25 years, with a possible extension for another 25.
By some estimates, 77,000 tons of highly active radioactive fuel rods are being stored at various sites nationwide. Why ship them all to temporary storage facilities, such as the one proposed on the Goshute reservation, only to ship them again in a few years? Despite claims that the rods are safely encapsulated, it is much more risky to move them than it is to leave them where they are.
And, if approval is granted to ship the 10.4 million highly radioactive spent fuel rods to Utah, what would be the incentive to rapidly build a permanent site? The proposed permanent site is near Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Guess who doesn't want the permanent site there? Like Utah lawmakers, Nevada lawmakers don't want their state to be somebody else's dumping ground, either.
While it appears Yucca Mountain will be the permanent site despite opposition from Nevada, it's doubtful the government would be ready to store nuclear waste there until after 2010.
Under the best of conditions, storing nuclear waste is risky. Spent fuel rods have a lethal shelf life of 10,000 years. The way to deal with nuclear waste is the way the new bill prescribes -- keep it where it is generated until the permanent site is ready to accept the shipments.
In the meantime, Utah must not let down its guard. Gov. Mike Leavitt is correct in his campaign to keep the shipments out of Utah. He ought to continue using whatever legal means are necessary at his disposal.