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The battle over high-level nuclear waste in Utah is not over yet.
The Skull Valley Goshutes and their business partners, a group of nuclear-power companies called Private Fuel Storage, filed papers in a Washington, D.C., appeals court Monday to defend their license to store used reactor fuel on the Goshutes' reservation.
"The bottom line is: This is not a dead project," said Jay Silberg, an attorney for the nuclear companies.
In September, many of the project's critics applauded its demise after a pair of rulings by the U.S. Interior Department that, in effect, blocked waste shipments to the site and invalidated the lease between the companies and the tribe. Silberg said the legal paperwork filed Monday disputes assertions that the project cannot go forward.
"Those rulings are still subject to appeal," he said.
Silberg added: "We are defending the license."
The tiny tribe and the companies forged their agreement a decade ago. Their plan was to use a patch of the Tooele County reservation to build a 100-acre long-term parking lot for nuclear rods until the federal government built a permanent disposal site. Although project proponents said it would bring badly needed economic development to Skull Valley and would be only temporary, opponents, led by the state of Utah, said the plan was unsafe.
The state's appeal of Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license was filed in the District of Columbia appeals court Nov. 8. It asserts federal regulators were wrong to approve the license because they miscalculated the risk of a military aircraft crash at the site, the need for stronger protections against terrorists and the certainty that the federal government will take the waste from PFS.
The news that the Goshutes and PFS were pressing forward was not a surprise, said Denise Chancellor, an assistant attorney general handling the state's challenge to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license for the Skull Valley project. But one of the project's fiercest opponents, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, said once again that the project will not go forward.
"Unlike Mark Twain, the reports of PFS' demise have not been greatly exaggerated," said the Utah Republican senator.
"With the [Interior Department's] decision last September, the company's plan to store spent nuclear fuel in Skull Valley went up in flames. We might still need to sort through the ashes and put out a few embers, but apart from that, PFS is finished."
The Goshutes and their attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.