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Herbert derails Utah-bound shipments of depleted uranium

SALT LAKE CITY — Planned shipments of depleted uranium from the U.S. Department of Energy's South Carolina's storage site will not be shipped to Utah under an agreement negotiated Monday by Gov. Gary Herbert.

"This is a monumental win for the state of Utah," Herbert said. "At one point, we were told these trains were all but on the tracks, making their way to Utah. The Department of Energy has now agreed, after we registered our concerns, that those trains will head elsewhere."

In addition to derailing the two remaining shipments of 7,000 tons of the material, Herbert said federal regulators agreed to take back the depleted uranium that came in December if planned state changes to the disposal process fall through.

HEAL Utah's executive director was delighted with the news of the averted shipments.

"Today we celebrate the huge victory won by Gov. Herbert for the people of Utah," said Vanessa Pierce. "We salute him, as well as the scientists, concerned citizens, and radiation control board members who have played an active role in safeguarding the health of all Utahns from this dangerous material."

Herbert met for an hour in Washington, D.C., with Ines Triay, the department's assistant secretary for environmental management. As a result, the department agreed to divert two train loads of depleted uranium originally intended for storage at EnergySolutions' Clive facility in Tooele County.

Additionally, a DOE representative will travel to Utah to address the state's Radiation Control Board and will work closely with state regulators to develop a site-specific performance assessment to determine if depleted uranium can be safely stored at Clive.

That process is expected to take up to two years.

The first DOE shipment of approximately 3,500 tons of material arrived in December from the Savannah River site in South Carolina. It is being held in temporary storage until acceptable parameters for permanent storage are put in place.

If proper procedures cannot be achieved to the state's satisfaction, or if independent testing of the barrels reveals the waste exceeds Class A levels, the DOE will immediately remove the depleted uranium from the state, according to release put out by Herbert's office.

EnergySolutions CEO Val Christensen said the company's interests are "fully" aligned" with the governor's and it welcomes the approach he outlined to safely manage the material.

"We are confident that the performance assessment underway will verify existing data showing that Clive is suitable for permanent disposal of depleted uranium," Christensen said.

Dane Finerfrock, director of the state Division of Radiation Control, said sampling of the radioactive material will be done Tuesday and Wednesday. Results of those tests are not anticipated to be back for several weeks. Division staff have been witnessing the off-loading of the material at Clive.

Members of the state Radiation Control Board are also sifting through the dozens of comments the agency received on a proposed rule that puts in place site-specific conditions for the storage of depleted uranium.

The public comment period ended in early February and the board is reviewing those comments as part of the decision to either adopt the rule as written or institute changes.

Finerfrock said division staff are compiling responses to the comments, which will be incorporated into a "Public Participation Document" that will be available for review.

The terms of the agreement reached between Herbert and the Department of Energy will also be outlined in a written document.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com