Goshutes, state renew fight over tribe's nuclear waste storage plans
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 6:43 AM- The Skull Valley Goshutes and their private-industry partners are trying to dodge a new obstacle in their fight for permission to store nuclear-reactor waste in Tooele County.

In a Washington, D.C. appeals court, the state of Utah is pushing to have the project's license put on ice until the Skull Valley Band and its partners clear two other stumbling blocks created last fall by the U.S. Interior Department.

The state, the nuclear project's harshest critic, has argued in legal papers over the past two months that the court should not bother making any final decision now on the project's license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. First, the state insists, project proponents must prove they have approval to get the waste to the site and secure a valid lease.

A ruling last September from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management blocked the transportation plan. Another issued the same day by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs nixed a required lease agreement between Private Fuel Storage and the Goshutes. The rulings from the Interior Department agencies prompted U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and state leaders to declare the nuclear project "dead."

Proponents have pressed forward anyhow.

PFS and the tribe indicate in the latest flurry of legal papers that they plan to appeal both Interior Department decisions, although they have not done so yet. They have more than five years to appeal the rulings in court.

Their plans call for storing up to 44,000 tons of used reactor waste on a 100-acre pad just across the highway from the tribal village in Tooele County, about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The high-level radioactive waste would be parked on the pads for up to 40 years in steel-and-concrete containers.

Skull Valley Chairman Lawrence Bear discussed the project April 21 with tribal members but did not take any votes.

"They're still for it," he said.

PFS, a consortium of electric-power companies with nuclear reactors, wants the court to validate the license that took nearly a decade to get. It wants to begin selling storage space at the site, which would be large enough to hold nearly all of the reactor waste generated since commercial nuclear plants began operating in the United States a half-century ago and the only storage currently licensed for power plant waste.

"We would like to get this part of it decided" by the appeals court, said PFS spokeswoman, Sue Martin. "It is important to have each of these [legal issues] done - and the sooner the better."

The state of Utah last year filed an appeal in the District of Columbia court of the license NRC granted the previous February. PFS, the Skull Valley Goshutes and the NRC are all defending the license.

The state, joined by a group of Skull Valley Goshutes opposed to the waste project, ultimately want the license killed. For now, they want the case put on hold until the fates of the lease and the transportation plan are settled.

fahys@sltrib.com