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State hits snag on N-waste

State continues fight against N-waste storage without knowing details of lease agreement

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The state has hit a minor roadblock in its fight to block the shipment of nuclear waste into Utah.

The state had hoped to know the details of a 1997 lease agreement between the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians and Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of utility companies seeking to store 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods on the Goshute reservation.

But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the federal government can withhold specific terms of the lease such as the termination of the lease, lease payments and payment of rent and interest.

"This would have been useful information and important for the public to know," said Larry Jensen, an assistant attorney general. But it doesn't injure the state's legal defense, he added.

The federal government refused to release the entire agreement, saying certain information was exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act that protects trade secrets. Disclosing certain information would harm the competitive positions of the tribe and PFS, U.S. attorneys argued.

State attorneys disagreed, indicating there is no competition.

The state argued that given the dangerous nature of the material, which is subject of the lease, "regions would be about as anxious to attract a chance to store spent nuclear fuel as they would be to encourage an outbreak of leprosy."

Although a three-judge panel in Denver agreed with the state in principle, the appeals judges sided with the Goshutes and PFS, saying they could suffer competitive injury if the agreement were made public.

In another ruling, the 10th Circuit also granted six groups the right to intervene in a lawsuit intended to set aside the presidential proclamation that created the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The six, which include businesses and environmentalists, wish to argue for protection of the public lands.

Steve Bloch, staff attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, applauded the decision.

"The conservation groups are gratified that the 10th Circuit saw fit to allow a voice in support of the monument into this litigation," he said.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com