by Howard Stephenson
Utahns are facing their last opportunity to prevent the storage of spent nuclear fuel rods (SNF) on the Goshute Indian Reservation in Tooele County. Private Fuel Storage (PFS) – a consortium of nuclear energy producers – has received a federal permit to store the SNF in Utah but PFS must first receive permission to cross BLM land to get the fuel to the reservation. BLM has opened a public comment period during which Utah citizens have a chance to express their concerns or their support. The public comment period ends May 8, 2006. It is important for citizens to create a public record of opposition which the BLM will consider in its decision-making process. This may be our last chance as a community to stop this waste from coming to Utah.
Depending on the measure used, SNF is thousands to millions of times more radioactive than anything which has been allowed to be stored in Utah. PFS seeks to store 44,000 tons of SNF in 4,000 casks in Skull Valley, not more than 50 miles from Utah’s population center. The Wasatch Front is downwind from the proposed storage site. Skull Valley is a tiny Indian Reservation only seven miles from the border of Dugway Proving Ground and just nineteen miles from the border of the Utah Test and Training Range. The casks are proposed to be unloaded from rail cars at an intermodal facility only a few yards north of I-80 – Utah’s only east-west highway corridor. They would be loaded onto heavy-haul truck transports which would cross I-80 and travel 20 mph South on State Road 196, just West of the Stansbury Mountains. These transports are 150 to 180 feet long and 12 feet wide, making normal wide-load trucks look small. Only one cask could be moved at a time. SR 196 is a narrow two-lane public road varying from 20 to 24 feet in width, often without a shoulder.
The movement and storage of these casks from their place of generation (nuclear reactors) to an unprotected, open-air central location in Utah near population centers and military operations is foolish. Opponents of PFS contend the movement of 4,000 casks would provide multiple opportunities for terrorists to use explosives to turn the casks into dirty bombs, spreading high-level nuclear material in a wide area. The proximity of Skull Valley to military live-ordinance testing ranges provides additional potential for accidental explosion of casks.
The Environmental Impact Statement for the truck transport is premised on PFS hauling 100 to 200 casks per year. Thus, it will take 20 years to move the SNF casks to the PFS storage facility and then another 20 years to move the SNF casks back for reshipment to reactor sites for repacking and then, finally to Yucca Mountain.
Over the years Utah has contributed heavily to national security in many ways which have produced risk to her inhabitants. Notably, Utah has endured the storage of dangerous nerve gas in Tooele County for many years. Fortunately, incineration of the nerve gas is nearing completion. It would be a tragic irony to replace the nerve gas risk with a SNF risk just as the nerve gas is eliminated.
The BLM Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the area in question currently states, “Public land will not be made available for inappropriate uses such as storage or use of hazardous materials (munitions, fuel, chemicals, etc.) and live artillery firing.” The BLM should uphold its own RMP and deny the PFS permit.
I urge all readers of this column to send a message of opposition to the BLM regarding the permit to cross federal lands with SNF.
Comments should be sent to Pam Shuller at the BLM by FAX (801) 977-4397, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by letter at the following address: