This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • The plan to store thousands of tons of nuclear waste in Utah's west desert could again surface after a federal panel suggested finding a temporary home for the spent fuel now piling up at reactors across the country.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future says in a draft report that a near-term solution for disposing of the waste would be to ship it to one or more temporary holding sites in the United States while Congress wrestles with finding a final burial site.
The only site currently licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for such use lies 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
"My concern is the waste comes here," Rep. Jim Matheson said Wednesday. "That opportunity, which we assumed at one point we had closed off, it's not closed off anymore."
Congress and the Bureau of Land Management had halted a previous plan to park some 40,000 tons of nuclear waste at the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians reservation, though a federal judge overturned two key Interior Department decisions that Utah officials had believed would block the waste from being stored on the land in Tooele County.
Officials with Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of energy companies that had pitched the idea of using Skull Valley, did not return calls Wednesday.
Matheson wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu arguing that the Blue-Ribbon Commission should drop the idea of shipping waste to a temporary site since "temporary" could end up lasting far more than a century.
Plus, Matheson says, the better plan would be for nuclear plants to store their own waste on-site until there's a permanent plan.
In 2009, the Obama administration shelved the long-standing proposal to make Yucca Mountain, north of Las Vegas, into the nation's nuclear dump site and set up the Blue-Ribbon Commission to look for an alternative resolution.
PFS had challenged the Interior decisions to block railway access to the site and to deny a lease between the Native American tribe and the consortium. The Interior Department didn't appeal the federal judge's decision to throw out those decisions.
Christopher Thomas, executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, which has fought nuclear and radioactive waste from being stored or disposed of in the state, fears the nuclear industry could take advantage of the already licensed site in Utah.
"I would not be surprised if the PFS plan rears its ugly head again," Thomas says.
Everett Redmond, director of nonproliferation and fuel cycle policy at the Nuclear Energy Institute, pointed to part of the commission's report that says communities accepting the waste should be willing partners, so Utah shouldn't be forced into taking waste if it doesn't want to.
"I would say that [in] Utah, unless the local community and the state are willing and supportive, I don't think it would end up in that state," Redmond said, noting a community in southeast New Mexico has expressed interest in storing spent nuclear fuel.
Redmond said consolidating the waste and moving it to a temporary site would allow the government to take possession of the materials as required by law.
He added that even if the Yucca Mountain project was restarted, it could take some 20 years for the nation to open a permanent repository.