This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
EnergySolutions is once again asking for the State of Utah's permission to accept another vagrant bunch of radioactive waste. It plans to blend, or dilute, Class B and Class C waste with less radioactive waste until it just meets the Class A waste levels its license allows at its Clive disposal site. Think of it as kind of a radioactive smoothie.
This blended waste is a unique waste stream: something unforeseen and unknown to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when it developed its low-level waste regulations in 1981. While the commission is currently trying to develop coherent new guidance on this, its rules state that it is only OK to intentionally mix wastes "as long as the classification is not altered." Utah does not have such a regulation.
The Legislature's intent was clear when it voted to ban the importation of hotter than Class A waste, and this seems to go against their wishes, and therefore wishes of the public. Gov. Gary Herbert does not support this scheme either.
Last spring the Utah Radiation Control Board (I served on this board from 2005-2011) adopted a rule that requires that all unique waste streams undergo an analysis to simply see if the material can safely be stored at the site. That seems prudent and is good policy. In fact just such a performance analysis was completed recently for depleted uranium, and is under review by the state.
So why, then, is the Division of Radiation Control contemplating the unilateral approval of blended waste, without complying with the wishes of the Legislature, the governor, the public, and indeed the board's own regulations?
At present there are no disposal sites that accept Classes B and C low level waste, but that will change in about a month when a Texas disposal site opens and starts accepting these materials, without any of the hazards incurred in actually putting these things in the blender. The public understands how corporations often use regulatory loopholes to their own benefit.
EnergySolutions is also partnering with a company (Studsvik) that in presentations to our board last year vigorously lobbied against blending, saying that there were "not sufficient safeguards," in place, and that this "does not solve the problem." And, what will be the actual increase of the total radioactive dose at the site, since the blended material will be manipulated to be at the very highest level of Class A waste?
Is corporate competition driving this push for a quick decision, one that bypasses the rules and regulators? There's a lot of money at stake for the disposal of our nation's radioactive waste, and perhaps that explains this rush to judgment.
I suggest that we make sure this smoothie doesn't get forced down our throats and adhere to the procedures put in place.
Patrick Cone of Oakley served on the Utah Radiation Control Board from 2005-2011 and was a Summit County commissioner from 1999-2003.