DOE contemplating next move on depleted uranium
Dec 08, 2009
By Judy Fahys
Salt Lake Tribune
The U.S. Energy Department is trying to decide whether it should start shipping depleted uranium that was originally headed to Utah last fall.
Federal stimulus money is paying for 15,000 barrels of uranium-enrichment waste from the Savannah River Project in South Carolina to be buried in the low-level radioactive waste site operated by EnergySolutions Inc. in Tooele County.
But the Utah Radiation Control Board is months away from determining whether more DU, as the waste is often called, belongs in Utah.
About 49,000 tons is already buried at EnergySolutions, but both state and federal regulators say a deeper technical analysis is necessary. Large amounts of highly concentrated DU becomes increasingly hazardous over the next million years.
Last week, Utah Department of Environmental Quality Director Amanda Smith updated Frank Marcinowski, the Energy Department's deputy assistant secretary for regulatory compliance, on where DU stands in Utah. She wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Marcinowski that EnergySolutions is permitted to accept "Class A" waste.
"Any isotope of uranium, in any amount, is defined as Class A waste and may be disposed of," she said, "if it has been found safe to do so in accordance with Utah Radiation Control Rules."
Smith went on to describe a proposed regulation change and license amendment. She noted that it's uncertain when those changes will be in place and that both are subject to legal action that could delay their effective dates.
EnergySolutions deferred comment on the DU shipments to DOE.
"At this time," said DOE spokeswoman Lauren Milone, "we are in contact with the regulators and others to understand all sides and will make a decision shortly."
With about 11 tons of DU from Savannah River and another 45,000 tons projected from uranium enrichment plants over the next five years, some worry that Utah's DU controls won't be in place soon enough.
At its January monthly meeting, the board will discuss asking DOE to postpone DU shipments until the license amendment and the regulation are in place.
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) said it already has asked Gov. Gary Herbert to make that request. HEAL policy director Christopher Thomas said his group wants the DOE to get the message that its DU is not welcome now in Utah, but neither Herbert nor regulators are conveying it.
"This [Smith's letter] is like showing the fox the back door to the henhouse -- demonstrating all the legal ways that Utah is currently vulnerable to depleted uranium," Thomas said.
"Now is the time for Governor Herbert to say that Utah's health and safety are more important than DOE's bureaucratic time lines."
The Utah Radiation Control Board voted unanimously Tuesday for a measure intended to ensure the EnergySolutions site is safe over the long run.
Under the proposed regulation change, the company must provide a technical report assessing how its site will stand up over 10,000 years considering epic rainstorms, runoff and even the rise of Lake Bonneville. The public has 30 days to comment on the proposal.
Also in the works is a license amendment to make EnergySolutions pay to have all the depleted uranium removed if it's found to be unsafe. The public has until Dec. 23 to comment on this change.
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