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Hatch's bill aims to block nuclear waste

Measure would keep shipments out of Utah — but not Nevada

WASHINGTON — Sen. Orrin Hatch plans to reintroduce legislation today to block the shipment of nuclear waste to a private storage facility in Utah and has asked fellow Sen. Bob Bennett to be a co-sponsor.

Hatch, unlike Bennett and other members of the Utah congressional delegation and the governor, has refused to support a bill that would ban shipments of spent nuclear fuel rods through the West. Such a measure would block both the proposed Yucca Mountain permanent repository in Nevada and the temporary Private Fuel Storage repository planned for Skull Valley in Utah's Tooele County.

Bennett, who on Tuesday announced he was breaking ranks with Hatch, President Bush and other supporters of Yucca Mountain, said he is considering Hatch's request.

Coloring Bennett's decision will be his support for a nuclear waste plan proposed by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., are calling for leaving the spent fuel rods at nuclear power plants and eventually reprocessing them.

Hatch, R-Utah, made it clear he does not support that position.

The Bush administration "strongly supports Yucca Mountain. So if I join with Sen. Reid right now, that would alienate the administration and others who can help us the most right now," he said.

"We need to keep our options open," Hatch added Wednesday on the Doug Wright show, broadcast by KSL Radio. "Sen. Reid wants us to close off one of the only options open."

When Wright asked him when Utah could expect help from the administration, he replied, "Well, we have to give them a chance." Now that the PFS licensing has been ordered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent board, the matter becomes more of a political issue, he indicated.

Hatch's legislation calls on the secretary of energy to conduct a study into storage of spent nuclear fuel at Department of Energy sites around the country and into whether the federal government should take ownership of the wastes now being stored at more than 100 nuclear power plants.

The measure, which was introduced earlier this year as an amendment to the Energy Bill but was not voted on, also calls on DOE to conduct a study into the development of facilities to reprocess nuclear waste.

At the core of the legislation is a provision that "no spent nuclear fuel or related high-level material shall be deposited into, or transported to, a non-federally-owned, off-site facility."

That is a direct shot at Private Fuel Storage, the consortium of utilities that wants to store up to 44,000 tons of spent fuel on Goshute tribal lands in Tooele County. PFS has secured the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Because the PFS facility is privately owned and operated, it would be not be allowed to ship waste or store it in Utah, according to Hatch's language.

But because Yucca Mountain is a federal facility, it would not be affected.

Hatch defended his support for Yucca Mountain, saying he did not want to "kick the administration in the teeth right now when they're for Yucca Mountain."

And unlike Bennett, he does not believe opponents of Yucca Mountain can carry the day.

"Sen. Reid can't deliver. And that's the problem," Hatch said.

Hatch said he thinks it's important for him to "hold tough and keep working, not give up." He said he is making headway with the White House, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Congress and even some members of the nuclear industry in working against Skull Valley.

Like the rest of the Utah delegation, Hatch said he also supports reprocessing and leaving the waste on site, or at DOE facilities.

But the waste issue is politically difficult, he said, adding the administration is "committed to Yucca Mountain." Hatch said he has had "innumerable meetings with top-level people" on the matter and will continue to have more.

"We will do everything under the sun to stop it," he added, speaking of PFS.

Jason Groenewold, director of the anti-nuclear group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said that eight years into the fight against the PFS repository, "it's good to see specific legislation being introduced to block nuclear waste storage in Skull Valley."

Groenewold hoped Hatch would consider joining the rest of the Utah congressional delegation and the Nevada delegation in opposing the Yucca Mountain site by "saying the West should not be the nation's nuclear waste dumping ground."


E-mail: spang@desnews.com; bau@desnews.com