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Leap of faith

Published December 14, 2011 1:01 am

Blended waste rule makes no sense
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first — verdict afterwards.'"

— Alice in Wonderland

Utah state regulators think it will take EnergySolutions a year to research, write and file a report on whether the company's nuclear waste depository in Tooele County can safely handle a proposed influx of so-called blended waste from its processing plant in Tennessee.

Yet they aren't waiting one day to allow the landfill to start receiving as much as 40,000 cubic feet of the stuff.

Maybe the Division of Radiation Control thinks that dealing with blended waste calls for some kind of blended approach. But this is just twisted.

If the DRC is confident that the blended waste is safe enough, or that the EnergySolutions processing and storage protocols are good enough to allow blended waste to be stored at the Utah facility, why make the company, the agency and the public go through the process of a report, a proposed rule, public comment and everything else involved?

If the regulators are not confident that this new kind of waste stream can be properly stored there, then why are they allowing any of it at all?

On the surface, the DRC has rejected the EnergySolutions argument that, because this blended waste is, by important measures now considered standard, no more hazardous than the class of radioactive trash now allowed, the new stream is covered by existing studies and permits.

The agency has recognized that blended waste — an effort to mix a little of the more hazardous stuff into enough low-level garbage to come in under the radioactive red line — is different. It is a new invention, created after current federal and state regulations were laid out years ago, and since the company's last performance review in 2000.

Yet EnergySolutions has been given the go-ahead to start receiving some of the material now. Even though it sounds like a small amount — 40,000 cubic feet compared to the 6.7 million cubic feet of low-level waste placed there last year — it could well prove to be 39,999 cubic feet too much. And, nuclear waste watchdog organizations argue, may be about all the blended waste there is to be had.

Under this arrangement, the state would find itself at a legal and practical disadvantage should it later decide that the flow should stop or that the waste should be removed.

This leap-of-faith approach makes no sense. The DRC should reconsider. Or Gov. Gary Herbert should overrule it.




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