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Gov. Gary Herbert is rethinking the idea of putting an executive from EnergySolutions Corp. on a state board after a scathing audit Tuesday that accused state regulators of lax oversight of radioactive waste.
Senators were expected to review Herbert's nomination of Dan Shrum, an executive with the nuclear waste company, at a hearing next week for confirmation to the Radiation Control Board. But, following a report saying the Utah Division of Radiation Control relies too heavily on company self-policing for low-level radioactive waste bound for the EnergySolutions site in Tooele County, the governor will put the nomination on hold for now, said his spokeswoman, Ally Isom.
"The governor feels the prudent thing is to review it, to reconsider," she said. "The regulation of radioactive waste deserves our utmost attention at this point."
Shrum's nomination had been controversial from the start because EnergySolutions has not had a representative on the board since a series of corruption scandals erupted in 1996 involving the company's founder, another radiation board member and a state regulator, who was sentenced to more than a year in federal prison.
The latest nomination to the revamped board had been loudly opposed by at least two groups: the liberal-leaning good-government group, Alliance for a Better UTAH, and the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL).
After the release of Tuesday's audit, which noted regulators had allowed 17 canisters of Utah-banned class C radioactive waste to remain buried at the site, HEAL revived its complaint about the nominee.
"It was outrageous that Governor Herbert ever thought it was OK to appoint an EnergySolutions executive to the body that sets Utah's nuclear waste policies," said Christopher Thomas, the group's executive director. "While the withdrawal is welcome, we urgently need to reform the lax oversight and culture within the Herbert administration that seems to welcome every new dangerous waste stream EnergySolutions wants to bring here with open arms."
"We need, and the citizens of Utah deserve, leadership and solutions that enforce the state's regulations and safeguard the state's citizens," said Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better UTAH. "We need a governor who says 'Not on my watch. The buck stops here.' "
EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said his company will be content to wait for the confirmation hearing.
"We believe Dan will do a great job if confirmed," he said. "If there's a delay, for further research and study, we support that."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, suggested the Department of Environmental Quality was doing such a poor job of enforcement, perhaps it should be disbanded, and that firing Utah's top radiation-control official might be in order.
The in-depth Legislative Auditor General's Office report said current practices make it impossible to be sure that privately owned and operated EnergySolutions is not burying outlawed wastes such as foreign-generated material and the class B & C wastes banned in the state since 2005 because state regulators do too little cross-checking.
Auditors said the radiation division needs independent verification that waste coming to Utah is what shippers say it is, including shipments from U.S. Department of Energy cleanups. Auditors also said regulators needed to fundamentally shift their approach, adopting Utah-specific practices to address unique laws, such as the B&C waste ban.
The audit team also said regulators should take a more active role in tracking the origin of waste, especially processed waste from an EnergySolutions plant in Tennessee where foreign waste is also handled.
Peter S. Cooke, the Democrat opposing Herbert in the upcoming election, questioned the wisdom of appointing to an industry watchdog board a representative of a company that makes significant campaign contributions.
"This is a blatant conflict of interest and shows the governor's complete lack of understanding for the watchdog responsibility of government," said Cooke, who has not received contributions from the company.
Up until now
Previously, Gov. Gary Herbert's office said the EnergySolutions Corp. executive was the only applicant qualified to fill the industry position on the nine-member board. But records obtained through an open records request by the Healthy Environment Alliance showed two other applicants: Matt Rydalch, a quality control engineer at Western Zirconium in Ogden, and Bryan Melchior, a consultant and former EnergySolutions executive with 20 years experience in the industry.