Sept. 12, 2005 – In a maneuver designed to cut off a public deliberation process rife with vocal opposition, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Friday that it has permitted a $3.1 billion plan by a consortium of eight nuclear power plant operators to build a waste storage facility at a disputed Utah site on Native American land.
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The announcement spurred a new round of complaints and plans for lawsuits from state officials and Native American, religious and environmental groups.
Plans to store the spent nuclear fuel in Utah have been in the works for eight years, but they picked up pace in 2002 after President Bush and Congress approved the plan to allow a consortium of nuclear companies to use land offered by a faction of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes, the Indian nation that owns rights to the proposed waste storage site, as a temporary storage facility for radioactive waste presumably headed toward a proposed constructed permanent facility in Nevada.
The consortium, Private Fuel Storage (PFS), will be permitted to store upwards of 40,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel on the Skull Valley site, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday. The site is to be used as a temporary repository for waste slated to be stored at a site on Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Nevada site is also heavily contested and has run into technical and legal problems.
"Our decision today concludes this protracted adjudication, which has generated more than 40 published Board decisions and more than 30 published Commission decisions," the Commission said in issuing the order. "The adjudicatory effort, plus our staffâ€™s separate safety and environmental reviews, gives us reasonable assurance that PFSâ€™s proposed [storage facility] can be constructed and operated safely."
Opponents of the effort say the waste represents environmental and health threats in the event of an accident or deliberate attack.
The groups warn that the Utah location will become a de facto permanent storage facility, due both to the growing, somewhat successful opposition to the Yucca Mountain site, and because the transportation and transfer of spent fuel is so dangerous. Last year, a federal court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to redraft the Yucca Mountain storage facility plans because the proposal "unabashedly" rejected scientific views on the issue.
Public Citizen termed the latest NRC decision "irresponsible and misguided," and cautioned that people and officials need to see through the "nuclear industryâ€™s need for a publicly presentable waste solution that it can use in its push for a â€˜nuclear renaissance.â€™"
Private Fuel Storage will take about 20 years to transport all the planned waste to Skull Valley, but the license does not require the consortium to develop removal plans for fifteen years, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) noted. The group also warns that clean-up responsibility remains an up-in-the-air issue, as does the length of storage.
In addition to sparking opposition efforts by the state of Utah and environmental groups, the Skull Valley deal created a tribal rift that has yet to heal. Previously, The NewStandard reported on an ongoing battle between the tribeâ€™s federally-recognized leader, Leon Bear, and tribal members who dispute his status and his decision to allow the storage of nuclear waste on Goshute land.
Utah politicians threatened to take action to halt the PFS plans, and environmental groups are considering filing a court challenge to the NRC decision, the Washington Post reported this weekend.
In a statement, PFS said the facility will not be operational before 2008. "We are pleased that the Commissioners have made a final decision on these issues and authorized a license," said PFS Chairman and CEO John Parkyn. "We can now move forward to meet the needs of the commercial nuclear industry and help protect the electricity supply in our nation."