PRESS RELEASE: Governor Herbert: Put Utahns First

Governor Herbert: Put Utahns First
Organizations and citizens urge Governor Herbert to veto HB220 Radioactive Waste Amendments

February 22, 2019, Salt Lake City, UT – House Bill 220 Radioactive Waste Amendments is on its way to Governor Herbert’s desk for a signature. HB220, sponsored by Representative Carl Albrecht, introduces ambiguity into Utah’s radioactive waste policy, which was previously simple and clear. Organizations like the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as citizens throughout Utah, are asking Governor Herbert to veto HB220.

This bill requires nuclear waste to be classified at time of acceptance, rather than taking into account any changes in toxicity or radioactivity over time. This directly affects the classification of depleted uranium, which becomes more radioactive than class C waste over millennia. The bill may also create uncertainty over whether there can now be exceptions to the current explicit ban on class B and C radioactive waste which remain hazardous for several centuries. Prior to the passage of this bill, the state only allowed class A waste to be disposed of here, which becomes inert within about 100 years.

“HB220 muddies the water on the State’s radioactive waste policies,” HEAL Utah’s Executive Director Dr. Scott Williams said. “The only clear thing about HB220 is that it widens the door for depleted uranium to come into Utah. It sends a message that the legislature is okay with importing the nation’s 800,000 metric tons of this waste waiting to be stored.”

For the last seven years, the Department of Environmental Quality has been assessing whether depleted uranium could be safely stored at EnergySolutions’ storage site near the Great Salt Lake for the thousands of years that it becomes hotter. Their report and decision is expected later this spring. Allowing the storage of depleted uranium would permanently create a radioactive site at the Clive Facility that would become a forbidden zone essentially forever. In endorsing the assessment process, Governor Herbert has previously commented on depleted uranium saying, “I have a hunch that it’s hotter than class A waste.”

“EnergySolutions’ Clive Facility is not suitable to store depleted uranium,” Brigham Young University geology professor Steve Nelson said. “The site can only bury waste to depths of less than 10 feet, due to the location of the water table below. And there is a good chance the lake level will eventually rise again and flood the disposal site. Depleted uranium becomes more radioactive with time, is chemically toxic, and is quite soluble in water. For these reasons it must not be stored at the surface but buried deep underground.”

Over 1,000 citizens sent messages to their legislators and the Governor in opposition to this bill and 750 citizens have filled out postcards, which were delivered today, asking the Governor to stop depleted uranium from coming to Utah. Other organizations throughout Utah like the Utah Nurses Association, the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance, and the Alliance for a Better Utah oppose HB220.

“As a long-time resident of Tooele County, my experience is that EnergySolutions has been anything but inclusive about their process and plans to store depleted uranium in Tooele,” said chemist and Tooele County resident Matt McCarty. “With HB220, our legislature is rushing the decision rather than letting the scientific, regulatory process play out first.”

Not only are organizations and citizens asking Governor Herbert to veto HB220, but they also hope to see a thoughtful and less rushed discussion of the state’s nuclear waste policy. Such a process should include experts without a conflict of interest and focus primarily on the health and safety of future residents in the state. The policy language should clarify, rather than confuse, decisions about the radioactive waste we will and will not allow into Utah.

“We urge Governor Herbert to show the same caution and restraint that he did over a decade ago when he turned the trains of depleted uranium around the first time,” Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Utah Sierra Club said. “With the results of the state’s depleted uranium safety assessment only a few months away, there has never been a worse time to fundamentally shift our state’s nuclear waste policy at the behest of a corporation. This legislation is grossly rushed, callous, and irresponsible – all Utahns deserve better.”

About HEAL Utah

The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL) has been an environmental advocate, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah for 20 years. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and developing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. The organization focuses on clean air, energy and climate, and radioactive waste. HEAL uses well-researched legislative, regulatory, and individual responsibility approaches to create tangible change, and then utilizes grassroots action to make it happen.

About the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club

The Utah Chapter works to protect Utah’s wild places, wildlife, and waters, as well as the people and communities who depend on them. The Chapter’s activism and advocacy are based on their strong grassroots networks, citizen-based leadership, and the guidance and skillsets of professional staff support. With over 40,000 members and supporters across the state of Utah, they work to protect public lands, promote renewable energy, and support initiatives that promote clean air strategies. They maintain a presence at the Utah Legislature to advocate on the full spectrum of environmental issues to amplify the voices of our members.

Steve Nelson
The views stated here of Brigham Young University geology professor Steve Nelson do not represent the views or position of Brigham Young University.

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