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Opposition to Private Fuel Storage Mounts from Public Interest Groups and Tribes

April 4, 2005

Opposition to Private Fuel Storage Mounts from Public Interest Groups and Tribes

Citing National Security and Environmental Justice Concerns, Groups Urge Nuclear Agency to Listen to Utah’s Appeal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public interest groups and spokespersons from indigenous tribes today charged that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is exacerbating the nation’s nuclear waste problems – and endangering national security – by preliminarily approving a so-called temporary waste dump in Utah known as Private Fuel Storage (PFS).

The proposal to build the dump on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah, 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, is led by a private consortium of eight commercial nuclear utilities, which plans to “temporarily” store 44,000 tons of irradiated fuel in dry cask containers above ground.   According to the utilities, this site will not serve as a permanent resting place for the nation’s waste, but rather would be an interim storage site until Yucca Mountain is opened.   Yucca Mountain, mired in delays and lawsuits, is the U.S. Department of Energy’s intended destination for the country’s commercial, and a portion of its military, atomic waste.

But PFS poses a national security risk because the high-level nuclear waste would travel on railways through highly populated regions across the United States with little to no preparation or training for states and cities, the groups said. Moreover, questions about the integrity of the waste casks in a crash remain unresolved.  Nuclear waste remains dangerous to human health and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.  Further, if Yucca Mountain, which is beleaguered by controversy, never opens, PFS would be poised to become a de facto permanent storage site.

“This plan is a fatally flawed shell game, unnecessarily risking transport of dangerous radioactive waste across the country to a temporary dump, only to have it moved again someday to someplace else,” said Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).  “Once parked at Skull Valley, the 4,000 containers of waste would be a radioactive bull’s eye for terrorists directly upwind of Salt Lake City.”

“Private Fuel Storage is just another industry-driven scheme to further energy companies’ goals of a nuclear-powered future,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “We urge the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rein in this misguided plan and listen carefully to the state of Utah’s legitimate concerns about why its residents should not bear the burden of hosting 44,000 tons of radioactive waste in their backyard.”

Utah has been fighting the proposal since 1997. There are no nuclear power plants within Utah’s borders, yet Utah’s residents are being targeted to bear the burden of 80 percent of the country’s commercial high-level radioactive waste.  Further, the private project is sited on a small, impoverished Indian reservation, which raises serious environmental justice concerns, an issue the NRC has been negligent in addressing in recent years.

“Yet again, like the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico that fought off PFS years ago, and dozens of other tribes before us, our sovereign reservation is being targeted by aggressive, giant energy corporations and complicit government agencies,” said Margene Bullcreek, a leading Skull Valley Goshute opponent to PFS. “We do not want this radioactive waste dump on our sacred land.”

On Wednesday, Utah will present oral arguments in its appeal of the NRC licensing board’s recent decision to dismiss Utah’s safety concerns. The oral arguments will be made at a 1 p.m. hearing at the NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters that is open to the public.