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Nuke waste on ice?

Thanks to now-retired Rep. Jim Hansen, a proposed nuclear waste repository in Skull Valley may be in stall mode. In 2000, Hansen inserted language in the Military Appropriations Act that calls for a moratorium on land-use planning in the Skull Valley area. The manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Salt Lake office believes the moratorium prohibits him from signing an agreement needed to permit Private Fuel Storage to build a railroad spur to its proposed nuclear waste facility.

The moratorium will remain in place unless Congress lifts it or the Air Force completes a resource study, which it appears to be in no rush to do. Considering that the Utah Test and Training Range is nearby the proposed above-ground nuclear repository, it strains logic that the Air Force would do anything to facilitate the placement of an above-ground storage facility considering the small but undeniable risk of airplane crashes or mishaps with live munitions used in training exercises. The moratorium and delays in the Air Force resource review are glimmers of hope that the PFS facility could be in limbo indefinitely. It's welcome news.

Neither the proposed PFS facility nor Yucca Mountain are suitable solutions to the storage of nuclear waste stacking up at nuclear power plants throughout the country. But if the waste is as safe as PFS officials contend, there should be no rush to move it to the interior West. Moreover, the PFS and Yucca Mountain facilities have finite storage capacity. They would soon fill with the waste that has now accumulated at nuclear power plants. What then becomes of the waste stream from ongoing electrical production at nuclear power plants?

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says Hansen's legislative work is part of multipronged attack on plans for the high-level nuclear waste repository. On Tuesday, Hatch also released letters from the U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman and a letter Hatch wrote to Nils J. Diaz, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has approved — but not yet issued — a license to PFS for the facility.

In essence, the Bodman letter says if Yucca Mountain is constructed, the need for the PFS facility will be reduced, if not eliminated. Moreover, the DOE does not consider the PFS facility "as part of the department's overall strategy for the management of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste." The letter also states that the DOE cannot provide financing or funding for the PFS project, which will be privately constructed.

Hatch says Bodman's letter is particularly important because it tells PFS, "This is never going to happen." At the very least, the BLM memorandum indicates to PFS that the project is "a long way from happening."

Credit Jim Hansen, who retired from Congress in 2002 after 22 years of service, for a heads-up legislative move that at a minimum will postpone the PFS project. It is incumbent on the current congressional delegation to pull out all the stops to halt the PFS project once and for all.