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Mayor speaks out against N-dump

Residents at final hearings make opposition clear

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Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt and Democratic state Sen. Scott Howell have already voiced their opposition to it.

Environmental groups and protesters have marched against it.

Now, at a public hearing about the placement of a high-level nuclear waste dump on Goshute tribal lands in Tooele County, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson finally had his say.

Anderson cited health and financial risks, the unwillingness of Eastern utilities to pay for handling of their own waste products, and an exploitation of the poverty-stricken Goshutes, among other reasons for his opposition.

"For all these reasons, I vigorously oppose the development of the proposed high-level waste storage facility," Anderson said.

Two meetings Monday offered the public its last chance to voice opinions before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decides whether to allow Private Fuel Storage (PFS) to store 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear waste at an 800-plus acre facility in Skull Valley, 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Monday's hearing was added after opponents at last month's public hearings urged the commission to hold additional ones.

The proposal has divided the Goshute tribe's 125 members. Goshute Chairman Leon Bear signed a lease with PFS in 1997, contending it will help bring in revenue and jobs to the impoverished tribe. Yet Sammy Blackbear, one of only about two dozen Goshutes still living on the reservation, has balked at the project.

Leavitt and other state leaders have fought it, too. And a bipartisan group, Citizens Against Radioactive Waste in Utah, has recently organized to oppose it.

The tone of Monday's meeting was clear: Citizens want the waste to stay where it was generated.

"What a great idea," said Katilin Backlund of the grass-roots organization Citizen Alert. "How about constructing individual spent fuel storage on site?" Backlund's statement was met with nodding heads and applause.

Backlund said transporting the radioactive material, which would come from as far east as New York and as far south as Florida, puts the 53 million Americans along the rail line at risk.

That's not true, said the commission's Susan Frant Shankman, who lives just 150 feet from the proposed rail line in Maryland.

In 30 years and 1,300 shipments of transporting radioactive waste, Shankman said there has never been an accidental release of the material. That's a record that should speak for itself, Shankman said.

And, in what was definitely the minority Monday, engineer Bill Peterson agreed with Shankman.

"What we're shipping here is a whole lot safer than a rocket motor," Peterson said. "And we never had meetings like this for those."

Peterson, who has worked in the aerospace and power industries for a combined 40 years, said the public doesn't completely understand the process of storing spent fuel.

The waste is a solid material and is stored inside one-half inch stainless steel fuel rods inside a vessel which is sealed with helium. There is no possible way for the material to escape, Peterson said.

"Nothing is getting out," Peterson said. "People are unwarrantly scared."

Shankman said it's natural for people to be concerned when dealing with radioactive waste. However, they need to realize how harmful the waste actually is.

If a person stood at the site's boundary 24 hours a day, seven days a week for an entire year, they would receive approximately half as much radiation as a chest X-ray emits. And since the closest person is 800 acres away, she said, "The nearest neighbor would get significantly less than that."

But some people still aren't buying it.

In the midst of politicians, doctors, scientists and real estate agents, Jani Iwamoto attended the hearing simply as a concerned citizen.

"I moved two years ago from the Bay area for a better environment for my children," Iwamoto said, adding that the children are exactly who would be hurt if the storage facility is allowed to move into Utah.

"What a great thing to show for the Olympics," Iwamoto said. "A place where the environmental beauty is really a cesspool."

The commission will accept public comment until Sept. 21, a final environmental impact statement is expected in early 2001 and the commission will approve or deny the site's 20-year license in January 2002.

E-MAIL: awelling@desnews.com