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Homeland Security to look at Utah site

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The Department of Homeland Security will look early next week at a proposed site for storing spent nuclear fuel rods in the western desert.

Officials from the department will tour the area in Skull Valley that is part of the Goshute Reservation, approximately 50 miles west of Salt Lake City. The department had been considering a visit since April and comes to Utah at the request of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Private Fuel Storage wants to store approximately 44,000 tons of nuclear waste on 820 acres it would lease from the Goshute Indian tribe in Skull Valley.

The visitors will spend about a week looking at the security risks posed by the facility and how well state and local officials could respond in an emergency, said Michelle Petrovich, a spokeswoman for the department. Investigators will then report back to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff.

Hatch, who repeatedly has sought scrutiny for the PFS proposal, tried to require that the department study whether PFS adequately has considered the threat of terrorist attacks, said Adam Elggren, a spokesman for the senator. That failed attempt would have been part of the energy bill, which President Bush signed Monday.

This visit by Homeland Security specialists is a long-planned tour of an area Hatch said is dangerously close to airports and major cities.

"It's difficult for me to understand how anybody in their right mind in this day of suicide bombers would place 4,000 casks of nuclear waste above ground within 10 minutes of the Salt Lake municipal airport, where thousands of private planes fly in and out," Hatch said.

The proposed site also is on the tip of the Utah Test and Training Range, where "F-16s fly with live ordnance and where 70 crashes have taken place," Hatch said. "It's a very unfortunate program to saddle the people of Utah with."

Sue Martin, a PFS spokeswoman, said the company is aware of the Homeland Security visit and said "this is just part of their overall effort to look at spent nuclear fuel storage operations all across the country."

The tour may not include much sightseeing — the proposed site is mostly desert, Martin said.

PFS is awaiting approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its license. The site would hold casks of waste on 100 acres, but access would be controlled to a total of 820 acres PFS wants to lease from the Goshute tribe. The commission may rule on the PFS license at any time, said Victor Dricks, a commission spokesman.

Utah politicians have generally opposed the proposal, and Huntsman had sought $10 million to study storing nuclear waste where it is produced. That $10 million has not materialized.

E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com

Contributing: The Associated Press.