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Walker and PFS official spar over nuclear waste plans

Nuclear panel to decide on Utah site on Jan. 19

Gov. Olene Walker and the chief executive officer of Private Fuels Storage presented sharply differing views of the proposed above-ground nuclear waste repository Thursday.

Also during the meeting of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board's Transportation Planning Panel, a new date surfaced: Jan. 19, 2005.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet approved a license for the repository, which would be located on the reservation of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians in Tooele County. But John Parkyn, chairman and CEO of Private Fuel Storage, said the commission has promised a final decision "one way or another on Jan. 19."

Plans for the repository call for it to be a temporary facility storing up to 40,000 tons of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the country. A spur line from the Union Pacific Railroad track would be built from the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake south to the site, which is about 10 miles north of the Dugway Proving Ground gate.

Walker launched a searing attack on the PFS proposal, noting that the percentage of Utah citizens opposed to it ranks in the "high 80s." If the facility is licensed by the NRC, she charged, "that spent fuel will likely remain in Utah."

Her skepticism about the temporary nature of the repository is based on two possibilities, that either the planned permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., will be derailed, or that if it is licensed, it won't have enough capacity for the material stored in Utah.

Even if a permanent repository is opened, she told the panel, after 40 or 50 years of storage here, there will be a greater risk when the spent fuel is transported through Utah a second time en route to Yucca Mountain.

Toward the end of her statement, Walker said the plan is "of great concern" because of the global threat from terrorism. The plant could "become a target," she said.

"There is a critical, critical flaw" in the schedule for the two repositories, Walker said. Yucca Mountain is slated to begin accepting fuel in 2010, while PFS could start taking the waste as early as 2006, she said. (Later, Parkyn indicated the date has been moved to 2007).

At the same time that federal officials are evaluating the safety of transportation casks and proposed routes across the United States, she said, "PFS will be moving that nuclear waste through the West."

"Get involved," she urged the panel. She said the review board should support one comprehensive transportation evaluation, one schedule, one full-scale cask testing protocol and one comprehensive emergency response plan. This should include participation by states and an independent agency.

"This is critical for the citizens of the state of Utah," Walker said. "As you can tell, we are extremely concerned about this issue."

Parkyn, a nuclear engineer, insisted that PFS does not want the plant to be a permanent repository.

Seventy-two locations across the United States are producing nuclear waste, mostly through production of power. Radioactive waste has been piling up, he said, and it would be better to store it temporarily at one site than 72.

Once the PFS plant is licensed, "it will take a lot of years to get it up and running," he added.

Parkyn outlined efforts by PFS to develop the best possible rail car for shipping the casks. Shipments would be via dedicated trains, that is, railroad trains without any other material aboard.

Also, because of safety concerns and because the Goshutes requested it, the waste would not be unloaded from the shipping containers. Instead, it would remain stored inside the casks pending shipment to a permanent repository.

"They would be sealed leaving the (nuclear power) plant site. We would not handle fuel," he said. The company would only use casks that were certified by the NRC, he said.

Accidents are less likely on rail routes than highways, according to Parkyn. Also, it would be easier to protect against terrorism on the privately owned railroads than on the public highways.

Speaking of safely using rail cars, he added, "We looked for a new level of precision, which meant we built cars from scratch." The cars would have special undercarriages to reduce the chance of tipping and to keep wheels from leaving the vehicle in case of an accident. A new method of braking would help the train stop in a shorter distance.

Monitoring devices would check 20 parameters, including the temperature of bearings in the cars' wheels, and GPS position, and report this information by way of satellite. Cars would be subjected to what he called "predictive maintenance."

According to a slide beamed onto a screen while Parkyn talked, the concept is "safe equipment operating on optimized route."

The two-day meeting ended Thursday at the Sheraton City Center Hotel, 150 W. 500 South.