Depleted Uranium Trains to Move from Savannah River to Clive, Utah

DOE: Trainloads of nuke waste on way to Utah

By Judy Fahys

The Salt Lake Tribune

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Trainloads of depleted uranium will soon be on the move, rolling over the objections of critics on their way to a Utah burial site.

A Department of Energy official on Thursday informed U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that 11,000 tons of the low-level radioactive waste — packed in 14,800 drums — is ready to be shipped from the Savannah River cleanup in South Carolina.

Rubbish from bomb-making and enrichment, the Savannah River waste will be buried at EnergySolutions Inc.’s specialized landfill in Tooele County. Both state and federal regulators are looking at what measures are needed to make sure shallow disposal sites like EnergySolutions’ can safely contain large amounts of DU, as depleted uranium is often called.

“We are now ready to initiate the first of the three planned rail shipments,” said DOE spokeswoman Lauren Milone.

The news dismayed Utahns who have been urging the Energy Department to wait until site-safety is settled.

“I am very disappointed that this material is headed to Utah, despite my concerns,” said Matheson, who asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu for a delay.

“I will continue to press the NRC for an appropriate review of necessary safety standards for this waste, which essentially remains hazardous forever,” Matheson added.

Questions about DU safety began in earnest last spring, after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) noted that it had never examined the potential risks of

disposing of large quantities of DU in landfills, other than deep, underground sites. DU is unusual, the NRC noted, because it actually grows increasingly hazardous for a million years.

Nonetheless, the NRC opted to retain DU’s classification as “Class A” low-level radioactive waste and set out on a several-year study about what requirements need to be met to ensure large quantities are safe at specific sites. Other Class A waste, by definition, should be safe enough to build a house on after 100 years.

With about 1.4 million tons of DU in government stockpiles and expected from commercial enrichment plants coming online soon, EnergySolutions remains the nation’s only disposal option for virtually all of that waste.

The Salt Lake City company already has 49,000 tons of DU, which would exceed the state’s hazard standards in about 35,000 years.

In its decision Thursday, DOE cited a Dec. 1 letter by Utah Director of Environmental Quality Amanda Smith, who noted that EnergySolutions is licensed to accept DU even as the state updates its site-safety requirements for DU over the next few months. Smith said she had not seen the letter informing Matheson about the imminent shipments.

“We’ll be looking at the letter,” she said, declining further comment.

Peter Jenkins, chairman of the Radiation Control Board, said he was surprised how quickly DOE made its decision about the Savannah River waste. He added that he was pleased about a pending state license condition that requires EnergySolutions to pay for digging up the DU if the site review does not demonstrate that the landfill can contain the waste safely for at least 10,000 years.

“The state has positioned itself to take the proper recourse,” he said.

Over the past six months, as the board has considered its options for dealing with DU, there has been a concern that the state might not be able to act swiftly enough to stall additional DU. In July, EnergySolutions told board members it had a standing contract with the Energy Department but no active orders.

Vanessa Pierce, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, pointed out that her group has been pressing Gov. Gary Herbert to request a delay from DOE. She likened the current situation to the federal government’s message during atomic testing in the West.

“Utahns are again being put at risk,” she said, even though the federal government is aware of health and environmental risks. She also noted that DOE had opted against sending the DU to a government-owned disposal site in Nevada because it would have taken a year to complete an in-depth environmental impact assessment that was promised to that state.

“Governor Herbert has not stood up to demand the same protections the Nevadans and the rest of the country has been offered,” Pierce said. “His silence is nothing but tacit approval of plans to send this waste here.”

fahys@sltrib.com

Department of Energy statement:

After careful consultation with the regulators, DOE has decided to continue its efforts at the Savannah River Site to prepare the remaining inventory of depleted uranium (DU) oxides for off-site shipment and disposal, and we are now ready to initiate the first of the three planned rail shipments. The planned shipments will comply with all licensing requirements of the Clive facility in Utah, requirements of the Utah regulators and EnergySolutions’ license. EnergySolutions is a fully licensed facility for the disposal of low -level radioactive waste and waste containing DU.

Lauren Milone, DOE spokeswoman

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