Tennessee lawmaker urges Utah to reject blended radioactive waste
Sep 19, 2011
by Judy Fahys
Salt Lake Tribune
A Tennessee lawmaker says down-blended radioactive waste poses “uncertainties and potential hazards” for both his own state and Utah, and in a recent letter he urges regulators here to block EnergySolutions Inc. from burying it in the company’s Tooele County landfill.
But it seems unlikely the letter by state Sen. Andy Burke will have much impact on EnergySolutions’ pending request.
“It adds no technical information,” said Utah Radiation Control Director Rusty Lundberg, who expects to have a preliminary decision on EnergySolutions’ down-blending request by next month before it goes out for public comment.
When low-level radioactive waste is “down-blended,” higher-hazard Class B and C waste is mixed with lower-hazard Class A waste so that the concentration of hazardous materials is low enough to be called Class A. With that label, the waste can be buried in Utah, where higher-hazard waste is otherwise banned.
While critics see down-blending as a way to sidestep the state law, EnergySolutions sees it as a market for new business, and nuclear-power companies see a sorely needed option for getting rid of Class B and C resin waste that’s been piling up at their reactors for three years.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking a closer look at blended waste in light of these various interests. But its updated regulations are not expected for a few years.
Meanwhile, EnergySolutions has submitted an engineering report to Lundberg’s office that indicates its mile-square site in Tooele County can properly contain the hazards of down-blended waste just as it currently does for other types of Class A waste.
Company spokesman Mark Walker said Burke’s letter was “motivated by a competitor that is opening a competing facility” — Waste Control Specialists, a Texas company that expects to begin taking A, B and C waste in the next two months.
“The senator is attempting to raise safety concerns,” said Walker, “that are inconsistent with the technical solution that follows established industry practices and is consistent with NRC regulations for the safe and compliant processing and disposal of low-level radioactive waste.”
EnergySolutions is partnering on the blended waste with a Swedish company, Studsvik, that has a radioactive-waste processing plant in Tennessee.
But Burke calls the process “dangerous” and without precedent. He blamed industry pressure in the past two sessions of the Tennessee Legislature for the failure of his bill to “close the loopholes in our state law relative to down-blending.”
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribunethis week, Burke said the issue affects both states. “My constituents don’t want Tennessee to become the world’s nuclear garbage dump,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think Utah wants that label either.
Matt Pacenza of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah said his group shares Burke’s concerns about down-blending.
“He’s raising critical issues,” Pacenza said. “We think down-blending on the face of it is bad policy.”
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