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Envirocare’s tactical choice

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Envirocare had spent millions of dollars on its proposal to store hotter radioactive waste in Utah, and it had even gained approval from the state's top radioactive waste regulator.

But Envirocare officials recognized that the political winds were such that it would be difficult to secure official support for the project given the considerable public confusion and opposition to an unrelated radioactive waste storage plan proposed by the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians. So Envirocare has shelved the project indefinitely.

This was a wise tactical decision by Envirocare, which would have faced a steeper approval challenge as it brought its proposal before the Utah Legislature and Gov. Mike Leavitt. The company would have run up against intense public opposition to Utah becoming the nation's dumping ground for radioactive waste, as well as a lot of confusion between the two proposals. The timing couldn't have been worse.

The decision also frees Leavitt to concentrate solely on the Goshutes' proposal to permit Private Fuel Storage to store much of the nation's spent nuclear reactor fuel on the band's reservation 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. Leavitt has actively opposed the plan, which would bring waste into Utah that is substantially more radioactive than the waste Envirocare wanted to dispose of at its Tooele County landfill.

Envirocare officials say the decision to ice its application means sacrificing millions of dollars in revenue for the company, state and Tooele County. Yet going forward with an application process with an uncertain outcome would be an expensive gamble as well. Wisely, Envirocare put the proposal on hold.

Reading between the political lines, Envirocare's decision should also help the governor forge a stronger alliance among the groups that oppose radioactive waste storage in Utah in general.

While environmental activists may view this as a victory, they should understand that Envirocare likely has not abandoned the proposal. It will probably resurface at a later time. Because Envirocare is a responsible landfill operator, radioactive waste producers want to do business with it.

For the time being, Envirocare has stepped out of the fray so regulators, decision-makers and the public at large can fully focus on the Goshutes' proposal. Given the many social, political and technical ramifications of the plan, it merits intense examination and debate.