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Plenty of fallout from a Yucca Mountain delay

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Dear HCN,

While Jon Christensen did a great job of detailing Nevada's battle against the permanent storage of nuclear waste (HCN, 7/2/01: Can Nevada bury Yucca Mountain?), the story unfortunately was not broad enough to tackle the question of what if Yucca Mountain's opening is delayed. That issue, too, encompasses the West.

The fact is that several of the Eastern nuclear power plants are running out of space for their above-ground on-site storage yards, while others are facing the deadline for agreements they made with local communities years ago that the waste would be stored on site for only so many years.

The answer to on-site storage is supposed to be Yucca Mountain, but with Yucca falling through the cracks, one powerful consortium of utilities, Northern States Power, has looked to Utah. The consortium is acting as a parent company to Private Fuel Storage, which has signed a still-secret contract with the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians, whose tribe is just 60 miles from Salt Lake City, to store waste on the reservation for up to 40 years.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, understandably, has freaked out about this and convinced the Utah Legislature to pass a volley of legislation, some of it possibly illegal, to keep the waste out, but time and time again the tribe, the consortium and even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission point to the tribe's sovereignty and Utah's inability to usurp it.

Now, in a sense, it is Utah against Nevada. If Yucca is approved, Skull Valley likely won't get their interim site. If Yucca is killed, and the U.S. spends another two decades looking for a permanent solution, waste will roll to the Skull Valley. Such a battle is unfortunate, but increasingly real.

Jeff Schmerker
Tooele, Utah

The author writes for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin.

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