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Utahns unite to fight N-site

New group to make noise about storage

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Opposition to a plan to store high-level nuclear waste in the state's west desert of Tooele County is growing to include a new cast of characters, a group of prominent Utahns who hope to sound the alarm on the proposal.

Citizens Against Nuclear Waste in Utah plan to make their first united appearance at a Thursday public hearing at Little America Hotel on a draft environmental impact statement recently released by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store up to 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste on the reservation.

In an election year, there may be suspicion that Gov. Mike Leavitt is behind the group's activities, but state officials say that's not the case.

However, Connie Nakahara, director of the state's High Level Nuclear Waste Storage Opposition, an entity within the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said, "I welcome a new ally."

State Senate candidate Jim McConkie and others announced the formation of the bipartisan group at the state Capitol Tuesday.

"People of Utah are very powerful people," said Anne Sward Hansen, the executive director of the newly formed Citizens Against Nuclear Waste in Utah. But they are asleep on this issue, she said. "We hope this new organization will wake us up."

Members include former politicians: ex-Gov. Norm Bangerter, ex-Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson, ex-U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens and ex-U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, current mayors of Murray, Midvale and Sandy, and McConkie's sister, Kathleen McConkie-Collinwood, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

The group's immediate goal is to raise awareness on the proposal by Private Fuel Storage (PFS), a consortium of out-of-state utility companies, to dispose of high-level nuclear waste on the Goshute Indian Reservation 45 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Gov. Mike Leavitt and other state officials have fought the proposal every step of the way. State officials have helped fund a lawsuit by Goshute tribal members to stop the dump. However, there is growing pessimism about the state's ability to stop it because of the Goshutes' sovereignty.

And the Goshutes are an easy target given their poverty, opponents said.

"The Indians have been picked on," said Henry Clayton, a Cherokee Indian and judge. He believes nuclear power companies turn to sovereign Indian nations to store the deadly waste because the federal government has no policy on what to do with it.

Since the 1940s, thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors have been piled up at scores of temporary sites around the country. Yucca Mountain in Nevada is being looked at as the likely permanent repository, despite bitter protests from Nevada. Until then, the temporary facility is being proposed in Skull Valley, Utah.

But if Yucca Mountain doesn't happen, then Utah is stuck with the waste, opponents say.

Utah will become the national graveyard for the deadliest form of nuclear waste, Anne Sward Hansen said, and it will take thousands of years before the radioactive waste expires, she added.

"This is setting scientific precedent," said Hansen. "Each cask represents 40 times the amount of radiation release of the Hiroshima bomb."

McConkie said the group organized in response to concerns that the NRC process has not given voice to public concerns.

"I kept thinking that the citizens of Utah would rise up," he said. "It isn't too late. There are a number of things we can do to slow this down."

E-mail: donna@desnews.com