PRESS RELEASE: Utah puts public over private profits in radioactive waste decision


Utah puts public over private profits in radioactive waste decision
EnergySolutions’ exemption request on depleted uranium law denied

October 25, 2018, SALT LAKE CITY — Today, Utah’s Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control board denied EnergySolutions’ exemption request from a state law regulating depleted uranium. Over 250 citizens submitted public comment to the board, which unanimously asked the board to deny the exemption request in order to keep depleted uranium, a type of radioactive waste, out of Utah.

At the end of August 2018, EnergySolutions asked for an exemption from Utah Administrative Code R313-25-9(5). This rule places a one ton and 5% concentration limit on depleted uranium shipments and mandates a performance assessment on shipments above those limits. EnergySolutions sought this exemption in order to bring up to 10,000 tons of depleted uranium munitions, the core of military-grade bullets currently stockpiled by the Department of Defense, to Utah for disposal.

“Allowing this exemption would have created a dangerous precedent that business interests can sidestep Utah’s public health policies,” Dr. Scott Williams, Executive Director of HEAL Utah said. “We applaud both the board on their decision and the Utahns who spoke out on this issue to ensure that public safety prevails over private interests of multi-million-dollar companies.”

Depleted uranium is a type of radioactive waste that results from enriching uranium, which is the process for creating nuclear fuel and weapons. What sets depleted uranium apart from other radioactive wastes is that it becomes more radioactive overtime, increasing in radioactivity for hundreds of thousands of years. It eventually becomes more radioactive than Class B and Class C nuclear wastes, which are both banned in Utah.

“Utah has already suffered enough from radioactive and toxic wastes, and depleted uranium would have opened another long chapter in that painful history,” Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club said. “Today is not just a victory for our communities and land, but is a representation of Utah values and our commitment to building a better future for our children.”

A decade ago, EnergySolutions sought to bring 800,000 metric tons of depleted uranium into Utah for disposal in shallow pits at their Clive facility. The Governor placed a moratorium on importing depleted uranium until the Department of Environmental Quality could analyze the associated health and safety risks — an analysis that is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is technically complex, and has been ongoing for the last 7 years. The results of this analysis are expected to be released in 2019.

“Depleted uranium has been undergoing the review processes recommended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that are needed to evaluate this waste’s risks to public health,” Williams said. “In denying EnergySolutions’ exemption request, the board gave citizens of Utah what they rightfully deserve: a full assessment on the risks that this radioactive waste could bring to them, their environment, and their future.”

HEAL Utah spoke out against the exemption request on the basis that allowing it would be inconsistent with state and federal policy, set a dangerous precedent in the state that private profits supercede public safety, that Utah doesn’t produce or benefit from nuclear power so it shouldn’t bear the burden of states that do, and that allowing depleted uranium to come to Utah would put future generations at risk for centuries to come.

During today’s meeting, the Director of the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control and Department of Environmental Quality staff recommended that the board deny EnergySolutions’ exemption request on the basis that EnergySolutions failed to demonstrate, without a specific performance assessment for this form of depleted uranium, that there are no undue hazards to public health and safety and the environment.

The Department of Environmental Quality’s performance assessment of whether the EnergySolutions disposal site at Clive is suitable to store depleted uranium long-term is expected in 2019. This assessment will undergo its own public comment period before the final decision is made on whether or not depleted uranium can come to Utah.

Grace Olscamp

About HEAL Utah

HEAL Utah has been an environmental advocate, watchdog, and strategic influencer in Utah for nearly 20 years. By empowering grassroots advocates, using science-based solutions, and pursuing common-sense policy, HEAL has a track record of tackling some of the biggest threats to Utah’s environment and public health — and succeeding. HEAL focuses on improving air quality, promoting renewable energy, combating climate change, and protecting Utah from radioactive waste. Learn more at www.healutah.org.

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.