Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. makes a lot of sense when he notes that he is working hard to keep spent nuclear fuel rods out of the state and that he spent a lot of time getting the federal government to agree to move hazardous mill tailings from the banks of the Colorado River — and that an effort by Envirocare to expand its hazardous waste site should be considered in that light.
The governor told this newspaper last week he won't approve the expansion. That's significant, considering the governor's signature would be necessary in order for the expansion to happen.
We share the governor's concerns. All Utahns should. The issue isn't so much whether the items stored by Envirocare pose a huge safety risk, or whether the company has been following rules. Envirocare has a commendable record on both counts. Rather, the issue concerns what the current generation of Utahns would like to bequeath as a legacy. Do people who live here today want to host ever-expanding operations that will render parts of the state unusable for generations? Do they want to open their arms to all sorts of hazardous material just for the money such things could bring?
Envirocare's new owners are seeking to add 536 acres to the 543 acres the disposal site now covers. While the company is not seeking to dispose of waste that is any more hazardous than that which it current accepts, the expansion would allow it to stay in business longer, and it also would help make the operation more efficient, officials have said.
But if the governor's mood is any indication, Utahns are getting a little tired of requests that involve undesirable materials of any type.
At the moment, the state has all it can handle trying to keep Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of Eastern nuclear energy concerns, from bringing their highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods to a "temporary" resting place in Skull Valley. Utah recently picked up a powerful ally in this fight when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, agreed to help.
That fight is far from won. And while there is a huge difference between spent fuel rods, which won't cool down for at least 10,000 years, and the Class A radioactive waste Envirocare stores, the principle is the same. Too many people view the Utah deserts as dispensable, or as convenient places to put the things nobody wants. The federal government once had that attitude when it conducted several above-ground nuclear tests that sent loads of radiation into the state.
Huntsman campaigned on a promise to keep Utah from becoming a dumping ground. His statements against Envirocare's expansion reaffirm that promise.