WASHINGTON — It's no longer just Utah officials fighting a proposed nuclear waste dump on the Goshute's Skull Valley Reservation.
Environmentalist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader also launched a national drive against it Thursday.
"It's so off the wall," Nader said about the Skull Valley proposal at a press conference at the National Press Club.
A consortium of eight power companies, called Private Fuel Storage (PFS), has proposed storing 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste above ground in 4,000 "dry cask" canisters in Skull Valley. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is evaluating that.
Nader released a study by his Public Citizen advocacy group saying the power companies involved have a poor record on pollution and public safety. It also said shipments to the site would endanger millions of people nationwide, and charged that Goshute leaders are ignoring wishes of tribe members.
Nader vowed pressure and protests from advocacy groups that will be so stiff that the project "will never be built."
The attack is nothing new, responded Sue Martin, spokeswoman for PFS.
"They have repackaged a lot of material used in the past to oppose anything nuclear," she said.
And opponents offer no solutions, she added. "It just seems like an irrational attack on industry."
Michael Mariotte, executive director of the activist Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said he and others hope to follow the example of protesters in Europe, who drove the costs of each short waste shipment there up to $100 million by requiring extra security.
"We are going to make it cost them much more than $100 million each (for PFS shipments). So if they think they are getting a bargain by trying to put this stuff in Utah and Nevada, they're not going to," he said.
Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, worried that the PFS site "could become a de facto permanent dump" without approval by Congress, because it is applying only to be a temporary storage area.
"They just want a place to dump their deadly waste without being slowed down by democracy," she said.
Public Citizen's report, "Another Nuclear Rip-off: Unmasking Private Fuel Storage," said PFS members "have been: levied fines from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for safety violations; . . . sued by employees for radiation-caused illnesses; fired whistle-blowers for exposing safety problems; and are being investigated for price-gouging during the California electricity crisis."
It added, "Since this collection of corporations has more often than not betrayed the public's interest, one's confidence in their ability to manage 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is eroded." Mariotte criticized PFS plans to send waste to Utah by rail, which he said is dangerous. He noted that a train crash in a Baltimore tunnel last week shut down parts of that big city for days. He said temperatures in the fire hit 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit — and nuclear storage containers are only designed for a maximum of 1,475 degrees.
"Each shipment is a national security risk," Nader added.
If the PFS license application is approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next spring, cross-country radioactive shipments to Skull Valley could begin as early as 2003 — and could bring up to 200 casks per year.
Nader also questioned whether the Goshute band had adequate input into the decision by the tribal chairman to sign a contract with PFS.
Margene Bullcreek, a resident of the reservation who founded a group called Ohngo Guadedah Devia Awareness to protest that decision, said members of the small tribe never voted on the proposal — which she said is normal practice.
"We have never voted on the lease agreement. We have never voted to accept the waste on our reservation," she said at the press conference.
Utah leaders — including Gov. Mike Leavitt and the state's congressional delegation — have vowed to do all in their power to block approval of the PFS proposal.
Contributing: Donna Kemp-Spangler.