An old fight about how much the nation's busiest radioactive waste landfill should be allowed to grow has been settled with the stroke of a regulator's pen.
Rusty Lundberg, director of the state Radiation Control Division, signed off on a license change Nov. 26 that lets EnergySolutions Inc. do some interior "remodeling" at its mile-square landfill but keeps the site's size about the same.
"It puts a lot of things to rest," EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said of the recent license amendment. "It allows us to serve our customers better. It allows us to operate more efficiently."
Public controversy erupted about six years ago when EnergySolutions officials applied to build a "supercell" at the Tooele County site, which is about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. Waste would be piled 83 feet above the desert floor rather than the permitted 45-foot height, which would have nearly doubled its capacity.
Then-Gov. Jon Huntsman threatened to stop the proposal by going to the regional authority over low-level radioactive waste and seeking a cap on the amount of waste it could take. Instead, he reached a compromise with the company that allowed it to reconfigure the disposal cells to accommodate a more modest expansion.
"This is a monumental win for Utahns," the Republican governor said in announcing the deal.
Then, a few years ago, the company argued the deal was invalidated when a U.S. District judge, in an unrelated case, backed EnergySolutions' view that the regional waste organization had no authority over the Utah waste site.
But that ruling was eventually overturned, and the company moved forward with its plans to update the site's floor plan, which sets aside specific areas for specific types of waste. In effect, the amended license includes the cap intended by the Huntsman deal although it does not memorialize the agreement itself.
Matt Pacenza, policy director for the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said his group is generally pleased the expansion limit is finally in place.
"While we appreciate regulators re-affirming the limits on how much waste EnergySolutions can take, we really think they need to lock the company into a new, binding agreement," he added. "The company has shown repeatedly over the years they will jump at any chance to get their way regardless of their earlier promises."
One more part of the "remodeling" is still under review by Lundberg, the regulator.
EnergySolutions' Utah site has taken more than 96 percent of all of the low-level radioactive waste that has gone to the nation's commercial disposal facilities in the past 20 years.