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Industry News

Nuclear Regulators Oppose Utah Desert Temporary Storage

LCG, March 11, 2003-The Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided against a company's plans to store spent radioactive fuel on a remote Native American reservation in Utah.

Private Fuel Storage, a company comprised of eight nuclear plant owners, was looking to build a storage facility on the Skull Valley Goshute reservation in order to dispose of spent fuel rods until the Yucca Mountain waste facility is built.

Citizens of Utah, along with environmental groups and government officials, opposed the plans on the basis of safety concerns.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided against PFS's proposal as the consortium could not provide evidence that a nearby Air Force base did not pose a threat.

The Utah Test and Training Range near Skull Valley flies thousands of training mission every year over Skull Valley, and NRC found that the likelihood of a F-16 crash was too high for the site to be approved.

Skull Valley is just 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Its 125 residents are economically strained and were convinced to sign a deal with PFS in 1997. The tribe would receive enough funding to build a badly needed reservoir and new housing, and 60 local jobs would be created.

The area of Utah desert in question has a long history of nasty chemical storage. The government tested chemical weapons to the south of the Skull Valley at the Dugway Proving Grounds; a spill here in 1968 resulted in the death of some 6,000 sheep and other animals. East of Skull Valley is a large toxic nerve gas storage and disposal facility, and the country's dirtiest magnesium plant is located north of the reservation.

Skull Valley's neighbors have worried about storage as well as transportation of nuclear waste, literally right in front of some resident's front doors. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), along with Governor Mike Leavitt, applauded NRC's decision.

"This was about getting cash for exploiting the safety of their neighbors," said Leavitt, according to an Associated Press account.

PFS will still seek construction and has the ability to file an appeal. NRC has said that if the number of flights is reduced or new flight patterns are adopted, it may reconsider.

In a hearing last year, PFS said that F-16 pilots could steer their planes away from the nuclear waste if a crash seemed imminent, but NRC was unconvinced.

PFS has said it still believes the potential facility meets government standards.

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