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No spur, no nuclear dump?

BLM official says he can't sign accord Goshutes need

Deseret Morning News graphic

A Bureau of Land Management official is refusing to sign an agreement that is needed if Private Fuel Storage is to build a railroad spur to its proposed repository site in Skull Valley.

Glenn A. Carpenter, manager of the BLM's Salt Lake field office, said he cannot sign the agreement until a moratorium on land-use planning is lifted. And that can't happen unless Congress removes the moratorium or the Air Force completes a resource study — a review the military seems in no hurry to finish.

Carpenter's letter was among three that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, released Tuesday in a multipronged attack on plans for the high-level nuclear waste repository.

PFS is reconsidering its plans "because of our meeting with them," Hatch added in a Deseret Morning News telephone interview, "but I won't go beyond that for now."

Carpenter's letter says the BLM can't analyze the route of a railroad spur needed for the repository until a moratorium is lifted on land-use planning in the Skull Valley area. The moratorium, part of the Military Appropriations Act of 2000, was inserted into the bill by former Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

"So Jim is still working for Utah," Hatch commented.

The moratorium forbids BLM land-use planning in that part of Tooele County until the Air Force completes a study of resources in Skull Valley under the flight route to the Utah Test and Training Range. So far, the study has not been finished, according to the BLM.

Judging by the years that have passed since the moratorium began, the Air Force is in no rush to finish it. The storage of 44,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods below the F-16 flight route could be an inconvenience to the Air Force.

In a press release, Hatch said he appreciates the BLM decision to follow the law. BLM's action has "jammed the NRC" and "sent a clear signal of more obstacles to come," he said.

The combination of the BLM objections and a letter from the Department of Energy secretary make it "clear the (Bush) administration is on our side," Hatch added in the release. "Let's face it, if the administration really wanted PFS to be built, there would be bulldozers out there right now.

"I am grateful the BLM and the administration are working with me to make sure that nuclear waste never makes a home in Utah."

Carpenter said the agreement could be construed as planning for the project, and land-use planning is blocked by the moratorium. However, he wrote in a letter to the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards that there could be language in the agreement allowing the BLM to later complete its action regarding land-use planning.

"BLM will not make a decision to authorize the construction of the railroad until after the moratorium is lifted," Carpenter wrote.

In an interview, Carpenter said action on the agency's land can only occur within the framework of its land-use plan. The proposed 33-mile railroad spur from Skunk Ridge to the proposed PFS site on Goshute Indian property was not part of the plan when it was written, he said.

Because of the moratorium against land-use planning contained in the military spending act, he said, the plan can't be modified, at least for now.

"Obviously, there's a lot of BLM public land beneath the overflight area," Carpenter said. "That moratorium effectively suspended our action on the (land-use) plan amendment."

The other letters were from:

Samuel W. Bodman, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, to Hatch, emphasizing that if the DOE's Yucca Mountain repository is built, it "will reduce, if not eliminate, the need for high-level radioactive waste to go to a private temporary storage facility in Utah."

The letter adds that DOE can't provide funding or financial assistance for the privately constructed PFS.

"As such, the Private Fuel Storage facility initiative is not part of the department's overall strategy for the management of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste," Bodman wrote.

Hatch, to Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Nils J. Diaz, warning the NRC not to issue a license for the facility before all affected federal agencies, including the BLM, have signed a memorandum of agreement. The agreement would assert that the project complies with cultural resource protection rules.

"However, it is my understanding that a number of these agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, have determined that they cannot sign the MOA because their concerns have not been met," Hatch wrote.

Hatch's letter, dated Tuesday, told Diaz that it would be "entirely inappropriate" for the NRC to license the plant before the relevant agencies have satisfied their legal and regulatory requirements under the National Historic Preservation Act.

Hatch told the Deseret Morning News that the Bodman letter is very important because it tells PFS, "This is never going to happen." And the BLM memo indicates to PFS, also, "You're a long way from this happening," he said.

During the interview, Hatch emphasized that these actions are just the beginning, "just some of the things I've done to not leave any stones unturned."