[eDebate] Goshutes and Temporary Waste Facilities

Andrew Culp acculp
Tue Sep 12 12:28:15 CDT 2006

For those of you who debate nuclear waste siting on the IC topic, you might find this story interesting.


Interior Department Rejects Interim Plan for Nuclear Waste

Published: September 9, 2006

SKULL VALLEY, Utah, Sept. 8 ??? The Interior Department has moved to block a huge ???interim??? nuclear waste storage plant on an Indian reservation here, citing a lack of confidence that it would truly be temporary because there is so much doubt about completion of a permanent repository, at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

But sponsors of the project, which was granted a license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February, said that the Interior Department decision had numerous errors and that they were considering an appeal.

A consortium of eight utilities negotiated a lease 10 years ago for an 800-acre corner of the reservation that belongs to the Goshute band, a tiny tribe, about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City. The lease would run for 25 years with an option for another 25, and the waste would be stored in above-ground casks of a type already used at reactors around the country.

Some waste is so old that the reactors that generated it have been torn down. And many nuclear power plants still operating have expanding fields of storage casks and no place to ship them.

But in a decision issued Thursday, the Interior Department said that acting as a ???prudent??? trustee of Indian lands, it could ???derive no confidence from the public record??? that there would be someplace for the fuel ultimately to go.

???Construction of Yucca Mountain could be indefinitely delayed by any number of factors, including protracted litigation,??? the department said, adding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ???acknowledges that ???decades??? are the most relevant unit of time for predicting the completion date.???

The decision was hailed by many elected officials in Utah, which has no reactors, and where many non-Indians oppose the plan.

But John D. Parkyn, the chairman of the board of Private Fuel Storage, the consortium, said in a telephone interview on Friday that the opinion about Yucca Mountain was contrary to federal policy and that there were various errors in the decision.

One, Mr. Parkyn said, is that the decision said development on the reservation would require a tribal police force. But in fact, he said, the plant would have only about 20 employees, and most of those would be guards. If tribal police were somehow required, he said, the project would pay for them.

The decision also cites the environmental impact of two extra-large trucks per week going to the site, but the Interior Department has already approved a garbage dump on the site that requires about 1,000 truckloads a week, Mr. Parkyn said.

He said that the Interior Department had told him a decision had been made but that he had not given him a copy. He received one from a reporter, he said, and had not finished analyzing it.

The tribe is divided over the project. A proponent, Garth Jerry Bear, said Friday at his home on the reservation that the plant would provide hope for the desperately poor members, good-paying jobs and money for schools. ???This is a third-world country, right here in the United States,??? Mr. Bear said.

He added that the county, state and federal government were usurping tribal sovereignty because of resentment over not getting their share of the lucrative contract.

???It???s like the broken treaties,??? Mr. Bear said.

Sammy Blackbear, an opponent of the storage plan, said he was elated by the decision.

???It should have come a long time ago,?????? Mr. Blackbear said, ???but this is better late than never.???

Denise Chancellor, an assistant attorney general in Utah, said that the law gave the Interior Department wide discretion in deciding about leases, and that ???it???s got to be fairly blatant before a court will step in and overturn it.???

The Interior Department???s decision is ???the final nail??? in killing the project, Ms. Chancellor said.

At the Energy Department, a spokesman, Craig Stevens, said the Yucca Mountain repository would be finished by 2017.

But nuclear waste may yet go elsewhere. Mr. Stevens said the department had received dozens of proposals for sites for interim storage and then reprocessing, in which uranium and plutonium are recovered for future use.

Nuclear experts said, however, that given the experience of the Skull Valley project, it would take years for any of the sites to get a license.

The department is under pressure to find some way to accept nuclear waste, because it signed contracts with utilities in the early 80???s, promising to do so beginning in 1998, in exchange for payments by the utilities of one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour generated at their reactors.

The Skull Valley partners offered that site to the Energy Department, but Mr. Parkyn said the Energy Department had not responded.

Martin Stolz reported from Skull Valley, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

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