SALT LAKE CITY — Two dozen protesters braved the cold Saturday morning to protest plans to ship more than 3,000 tons of depleted uranium through the state to Utah's western desert.
The protest was organized by the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah as a train carrying the first of three planned shipments of depleted uranium nears the state.
"We cannot allow this waste to be buried here, and we are asking Gov. Herbert to help us turn these trains around," said Christopher Thomas, policy director for HEAL Utah.
Thomas said a compromise worked out between Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Department of Energy Thursday is inadequate. Under the agreement, the state will allow the first of three trains loaded with the radioactive waste to enter the state, but not to bury the material at EnergySolutions disposal site near Clive until additional safety measures can be taken.
"This is no time to declare victory just because we've delayed the time of our defeat," he said. "Gov. Herbert's agreement has not stopped these shipments from coming, it's only slowed them down."
Thomas was cheered on by a small but vocal group sporting signs that read "No DU" and "Nuclear waste is immoral."
Political activist Claire Geddes also spoke to the small group.
"This material needs to be placed in deep storage, not in a lake bed," she said.
On the fringe of the gathering, Ed B. Firmage, emeritus law professor at the University of Utah, passed out a letter likening the decision to allow the nuclear material into the state as an act of terrorism.
"If you or I brought nuclear material into the state, we would be arrested as terrorists," he said. "So why can the state do it?"
In a hastily called news conference, EnergySolutions President Val Christensen dismissed the protest as an effort to block his company's efforts to do business and, in the process, slow the growth of nuclear power.
"There is no science behind HEAL's position. They rely on slogans without science," he said. "They are clearly anti-nuclear and are not interested in doing anything other than slowing the growth of EnergySolutions and nuclear power."
The DOE has said it will ship 14,500 drums of depleted uranium from its Savannah River site in South Carolina to Utah. The first shipment will arrive sometime in the next two weeks, and the other two are scheduled to be shipped in 2010.
Under the agreement Herbert worked out with DOE, the first shipment will arrive in the state as planned but will not be buried until the state has adopted new rules on depleted uranium disposal. The rules would require an extensive assessment of the Clive facility's ability to safely store the material.