State's big nuke waste fight takes a hit


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, "Utahns could kill radioactive dump."

Like Nevada in its fight to stop the nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain (HCN, 8/5/02), Utah has adopted a by-any-means-necessary approach to block storage of high-level nuclear waste within its borders. And just as in Nevada, everything Utah's leaders have tried so far has failed.

The latest blow came July 30, when a federal judge struck down a series of laws meant to block a $3.1 billion storage project on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation, 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The project would store 40,000 tons of spent fuel from nuclear power plants around the country. Judge Tena Campbell ruled that the final decision rests with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and not with the state.

Campbell threw out laws * passed by the Utah Legislature last year and signed by Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt * which would have banned spent nuclear fuel in the state, required the consortium of out-of-state companies behind the storage facility to post a $150 billion bond, and imposed a $10,000 fine on anyone who provided services to the facility.

A spokesperson for the Private Fuel Storage consortium called the judge's decision "thorough and well-reasoned." But state leaders have appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

If eventually approved, the Skull Valley facility would act as a holding ground for spent fuel rods until Yucca Mountain is ready to accept the waste. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision isn't expected until at least December.

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