Radioactive Utah?

Post update: On October 25, 2018, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control board unanimously voted to DENY EnergySolutions’ their exemption request on a law governing depleted uranium, which they sought in order to store depleted uranium munitions in Utah. Read more in our press release.


HEAL Utah. Depleted uranium. EnergySolutions. Exemption. Radioactive.

You may have seen the above names and phrases in some headlines lately — and for good reason! Utah has a surge of radioactive waste issues that have popped up this fall and HEAL is at the forefront of them all.

What’s happening?

There are two current issues that both involve a type of radioactive waste known as depleted uranium (DU) and the company who wants to handle this waste, EnergySolutions. A public comment period has opened for one of the issues, and the other is expected to have a comment period in the spring of 2019.

Cartoon: Katauskes via Greens MPs on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)
Back up…what’s depleted uranium again?

Depleted uranium is a form of radioactive waste that results from enriching uranium, which is the process for creating nuclear fuel and weapons. While DU starts out as low-level waste, it becomes increasingly radioactive overtime — eventually becoming more radioactive than any of the forms of nuclear waste currently banned in Utah. So there’s nothing “depleted” about it! Yikes!

What’s the difference between these issues?

Most DU (700,000 tons) is sitting in casks at sites around the U.S. waiting for a permanent disposal site — the first issue deals with the disposal of these casks. DU is one of the hardest known metals and so some of it has been converted to bullets and armor for military uses but what remains is no longer useful and also needs to be disposed of — the second issue deals with these used military munitions and a request to be exempt from state law.

It’s hard to keep track of them all, so we’ve laid out each issue below:

 EnergySolutions’ permit request to dispose of 700,000 metric tons of uranium enrichment DU EnergySolutions’ emergency exemption request to dispose of an unknown quantity of military grade DU
Quick look>> EnergySolutions wants to bring 700,000 metric tons of DU to Utah, which comes from from uranium enrichment processing for fuel and weapons.

>> DEQ is analyzing the health and safety risks of DU to decide whether DU should come to Utah.

>> HEAL doesn’t want DU due to the health and safety risks it brings to our people and environment.
>> EnergySolutions now wants to also dispose of DU that has been converted to bullets and armor by the military.

>> They have asked to be exempt from a state law that puts a 1 ton upper weight limit on DU shipments and mandates a performance assessment on shipments above that limit.

>> There is currently an “emergency” comment period open for the public to weigh in on this request.

>> HEAL wants to get this exemption request denied so EnergySolutions isn’t allowed to keep skirting the law.
What's at stake?>> Whether or not EnergySolutions can bring 700,000 metric tons of DU to Utah for storage in shallow pits.>> Whether or not EnergySolutions can be exempt from a specific law that restricts the tonnage of DU shipments can come to Utah.
Full story>> For the last 7 years, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been assessing DU and EnergySolutions’ proposal to bring 700,000 metric tons of DU into the state for storage in shallow pits.

>> DEQ’s assessment evaluates the health and safety risks DU has to both people and the environment.

>> Once the assessment is released, there will be a decision on whether or not DU can be brought to and stored in Utah.

>> A public comment period will occur before the final decision is made.
>> In the last week of August 2018, EnergySolutions requested that they be exempt from a specific state law mandating the mass and concentration limits of DU shipments.

>> In their request, EnergySolutions focused on a type of military-grade bullet that uses DU in its core.

>> Utah’s Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control Board called an emergency meeting over this request and opened a comment period so the public could weigh in on the request.

>> This comment period is currently open and we are asking all of our supporters to submit comments to ensure that EnergySolutions’ isn’t allowed to skirt the law.
Current status>> DEQ is completing their performance assessment of DU.

>> We expect this assessment will be released in the winter or spring of 2019, with a comment period and final decision soon thereafter.
>> The public (that's you!) can submit comments to the Board on whether or not EnergySolutions should be given this exemption.
What if the DEQ says “YES”?>> EnergySolutions will be able to bring unknown quantities of DU to Utah.>> There will be a precedent that EnergySolutions can supersede the law when it helps their bottom line.

>> The corporation will, potentially, also be able to bring unknown amounts of DU to Utah without evaluation on the risks of DU.
Why do we want DEQ to say “NO”?>> Allowing DU to come to Utah will put our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and so on at risk.

>> Utahns have already suffered enough from nuclear threats -- including uranium milling and mining, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear waste dumping.

>> Utah doesn’t produce or benefit from nuclear power, so it shouldn’t be the nation’s dumping ground from the waste that results from creating that power.
>> Allowing this exemption will set a dangerous precedent in the state that, when they want a new contract, EnergySolutions can skirt laws that are meant to protect public health and safety.

>> There has been a performance assessment happening for the last 7 years on whether or not DU is safe enough to come to Utah -- EnergySolutions should wait until that regulatory process is complete instead of trying to go around it.
Don't forget...>> Utah has already banned Class B and C waste because of the health impacts caused by exposure to radioactivity. DU, overtime, becomes more radioactive than both Class B and C waste.

>> There are no long-term plans beyond 100-years to take care of this waste, yet it will be radioactive for much, much longer. There is no way to ensure safe disposal of this waste for its entire life.
>> EnergySolutions’ exemption request focuses on DU munitions, and they have stated that their request comes from a potential contract with the Department of Defense.

>> This is not a strong enough reason to go around the law.

>> This is the third time in the last year that EnergySolutions has requested an exemption from state law.
Take action!>> Urge Governor Herbert to block DU from entering Utah by signing one of our postcards when you see our booth at community events.

>> Keep an eye out for ANOTHER DU COMMENT PERIOD, most likely happening in the spring of 2019.
>> You can take action TODAY by submitting a comment opposing EnergySolutions’ exemption request.

Whew! Good job making it through all that. Questions on either of these issues and how else to get involved? Contact us at info@healutah.org.

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