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SKULL VALLEY - Even if the Nuclear Regulatory Agency licenses a high-level nuclear waste storage facility on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation - and tribal member Margene Bullcreek has her doubts - the facility would face another round of resistance, Bullcreek promised Saturday.
At a protest that drew about 35 activists to the reservation 45 miles west of Salt Lake City, Bullcreek, founder of Ohngo Guadadeh Devia Awareness, said the grass-roots group would file a legal challenge to any license granted to Private Fuel Storage (PFS).
Given the project's ongoing delay, "I believe the facility won't be coming through," she said. "If it does, Ohngo Guadadeh Devia will appeal."
Those attending the protest included members of the Shundahai Network, a group working to keep nuclear waste out of the Great Basin, and HEAL Utah, which works on environmental health-related issues.
Jason Groenewold of HEAL Utah said such gatherings have helped stall the project. "People have been dedicated to the effort to keep Utah from becoming a dumping ground," he said, warning that believing the facility would be temporary is futile. "Once the waste gets here, no one else is going to take it," he said.
Gov. Olene Walker, whom Bullcreek invited to attend the protest, instead sent a letter of support.
"High-level nuclear waste should not be dumped on the reservation or anywhere in Utah," Walker wrote. "It will only create a serious, new risk for the Skull Valley Band."
Both major party candidates for governor, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. and Democrat Scott Matheson Jr., oppose the facility, as do the members of Utah's congressional delegation.
No other members of the Goshute tribe attended, though many oppose the PFS proposal, Bullcreek said. She attributed their absence to intertribal disputes.
The Skull Valley Band has been locked in a leadership battle since Tribal Chairman Leon Bear in 1997 signed a lease with PFS to allow the company to store up to 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel on Goshute land. The proposal must be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has been holding meetings on the license.
PFS is a consortium of seven electrical utilities whose nuclear power plants are running out of on-site storage for spent fuel rods. Proponents say it would provide temporary storage for some of the nation's deadliest nuclear waste that later would be transported to the permanent facility planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.
The Energy Department has promised to open the Nevada repository by 2010, but many doubt the federal government will be able to meet the deadline.
University of Utah chemical engineering professor Bonnie Tyler told the protesters that science is showing Yucca Mountain isn't a viable option to store nuclear materials safely. "The scientific community does not know how to solve the problem," she said.
As planned, the facility would be big enough to hold up to 4,000 steel-and-concrete containers of spent fuel - about 10 million rods - on concrete pads sprawling across 100 acres of the Skull Valley Goshute reservation. The waste would be shipped over rail lines, mostly from reactors east of the Mississippi. Utah has no nuclear power plants.
As an oncoming cold front whipped thick dust into the open-sided tent across the desert valley from where the casks would sit, Western Shoshone tribal elder Corbin Harney pleaded with the gathering to honor younger generations' need for clean water, air and Earth. "Let's bring this to the attention of the world," Harney said.