Could search for nuclear-waste site revive Skull Valley plan?
Sep 12, 2011
Salt Lake Tribune
Presidential advisers think it would be a good idea for the federal government to create a kind of long-term parking lot for the nation’s growing stockpile of nuclear waste from reactors and the military.
For Utahns, the suggestion is sure to sound eerily familiar, given the history with the proposed Skull Valley waste site.
But, no, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future isn’t talking about the patch of Goshute tribal land in Tooele County — at least not in the preliminary recommendations the 15-person panel is taking on the road next week in a series of meetings that begin in Denver.
Led by former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and Utah native Brent Scowcroft, a former adviser to Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush, the presidential panel steered clear of focusing on any specific sites, suggesting only that one or more consolidated storage sites be located “where communities are willing.”
The panel’s immediate aim is to talk about its report and get feedback. And Utah hasreal-world feedback to offer.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s counsel John Pearce is set to tell about Utah’s long and costly experience fighting the Skull Valley Goshute Band’s proposal to store up to 44,000 tons of nuclear waste while the nation figures out a permanent solution.
“We have a lot of important experience to share with the Blue Ribbon Commission because we have lived through the licensing process,” he said.
As of Friday, the Goshutes weren’t planning to attend the meeting, said the tiny tribe’s Chairwoman Lori Bear. Elected earlier this year, she declined to comment on current views about the proposal.
The storage site plan, which earned a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission five years ago, would have allowed the band to build a 100-acre storage pad on its 18,000-acre reservation, where steel-and-concrete containers of deadly reactor fuel could wait for up to 40 years for permanent disposal. The site is about 45 miles from Salt Lake City, and in the flight path of the nearby Utah Test and Training Range, the nation’s largest overland bomb test and training range.
A consortium of eight electric-utility companies — Private Fuel Storage (PFS) — worked with the Goshutes on the proposal for about a dozen years before the NRC granted the license in 2006 over the unrelenting objections of the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation, four governors, the Legislature and a majority of citizens.
Still, behind-the-scene efforts by political leaders prompted the U.S. Department of Interior to derail the license by rejecting two key approvals: a Bureau of Land Management right-of-way and the Bureau of Indian Affairs final OK on the lease between PFS and the Goshutes. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out those decisions just over a year ago.
And, while the tribe is uncertain, neither its partners nor opponents of the project within the Skull Valley band have remained silent.
John Parkyn, PFS’ chairman and CEO, wrote to the Blue Ribbon Commission and testified that he has a license for just the kind of interim storage site the panel has in mind.
“PFS is ready and able to provide America with an interim spent fuel storage site as we move forward with nuclear power,” he said in written testimony last year, “the largest and most economical non-emitting generation source America has in its efforts to reduce global climate change by the reduction of the release of carbon.”
Meanwhile, Margene Bullcreek, who led the storage site opposition among American Indians, said her group Ohngo Gaudadeh Devia (OGD) which means “Mountain Community,” is ready to fight again if necessary.
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