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Envirocare puts plan for hot waste on ice

State OKs storage, but firm bows to opponents anyway

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Envirocare of Utah is dumping its plan to store hotter radioactive waste in Utah despite the fact the state's top regulator on Monday gave his formal approval for the plan.

Envirocare President Charles Judd said public opposition to an unrelated proposal pursued by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, who want to store highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel on their reservation, has made it difficult to gain political support for Envirocare's proposal.

The company may not close the door completely. "We just know right now we have no plans," Judd said.

The news sent a shock wave throughout Utah.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Bill Sinclair, director of the Division of Radiation Control.

After poring over 750 public comments, he issued a final decision Monday that allowed Envirocare to move forward with its proposal to take so-called Class B and C wastes. In his decision, Sinclair said the wastes, which consist mainly of materials from nuclear power plants, research labs and hospitals, can be disposed of safely at its remote landfill in Tooele County.

Approval from the Legislature and governor would have been required in addition to Sinclair's action.

Opponents were particularly surprised given that approval was expected. In January, Sinclair granted tentative approval to the technical and safety aspects of Envirocare's license application.

"It's great news," said Jason Groenewold, director of Families Against Incinerator Risk. "I'm glad Envirocare recognizes the interests of Utahns, that we're not going to sit back and let Utah become the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground," he said.

Class B and C waste are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of times more radioactive than the Class A wastes, mostly contaminated soil that the company currently is licensed to accept. Yet they are much less toxic than the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel that Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of nuclear utilities, wants to store on the Goshute Indian reservation.

But Envirocare is dealing with a public relations problem inasmuch as the governor has launched a highly publicized campaign against the storage of high-level nuclear waste in the state.

"We feel that pursuing our project while the PFS proposal is pending will only lead to more confusion and continued misrepresentation of the facts surrounding our efforts," Judd said.

The 2001 Legislature passed a number of laws to stop the PFS proposal. PFS in turn filed a lawsuit, claiming the laws are unconstitutional. And Gov. Mike Leavitt has hired an attorney to defend the state.

"Although the differences between the two proposals are extreme, the firestorm of controversy that has surrounded the PFS/Goshute proposal has spilled over onto Envirocare's project, making it difficult to obtain a properly documented, well-considered decision concerning Envirocare's proposal," Judd said.

Envirocare had tried to distance its proposal from the Goshute plan. But a Deseret News poll showed Utahns don't care about the distinction. That poll released in January revealed that 84 percent of Utah residents oppose Envirocare's plan.

Judd noted that the decision may have financial consequences.

"This decision by Envirocare will definitely have a negative impact on future employment at Envirocare and will result in the loss of millions of dollars of lost revenue for Tooele County and the state of Utah," he said.

E-MAIL: donna@desnews.com