Chip Ward has called his home turf of Tooele County, Utah, the
"most extensive environmental sacrifice zone in the nation" (HCN,
2/14/00: Canaries in the Utah desert). The 7,600-square-mile county
on the western edge of the state is home to a chemical-weapons
burner, a biological warfare proving ground, a bombing range, a
hazardous-waste incinerator and landfill, a radioactive waste
landfill, and a company consistently rated as the number-one air
polluter in America.
County commissioners now say
they have no choice but to open the door to another toxic neighbor.
In late May, the commissioners agreed not to oppose the temporary
storage of spent nuclear fuel rods on land owned by the Skull
Valley Band of Goshute Indians (HCN, 9/1/97: A nuclear dump
proposal rouses Utah). The county also promised to provide law
enforcement and firefighting services to the 820-acre
In exchange, a consortium of utility
companies will pay at least $90 million and perhaps as much as $300
million to the county over the next 40 years - potentially more
than the impoverished Goshutes will gain from the storage
Commissioners say the agreement will
benefit the 36,000-person county, whose deserts and rugged
mountains yield few ways of making a living. "This waste is coming
anyway, and without the contract it would be coming for free," says
commissioner Gary Griffith.
Utah Gov. Michael
Leavitt, a strong opponent of the project, called the agreement a
The project still faces
significant hurdles, including opposition from within the tribe,
permit requirements by the Department of Transportation and the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a belligerent state governor.
But after the announcement of the county agreement, Leavitt
acknowledged for the first time that the state may not be able to
stop the project. The NRC held hearings on the project in Salt Lake
City in late June, and utility companies involved with the site say
waste could begin arriving as early as 2003.