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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Department of Energy said Thursday that is has struck a deal with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that would prohibit thousands of drums of low-level radioactive waste from South Carolina from being permanently buried in Utah until stricter state guidelines are put in place.
DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said the agreement was reached Thursday, two days after Herbert called on the department to stop a train loaded with depleted uranium from leaving the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.
A message left with Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling was not immediately returned.
State regulators say they need more time to determine whether depleted uranium can safely be disposed of at EnergySolutions Inc.'s site about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. Depleted uranium is different from other waste disposed there because it becomes more radioactive over time, for up to 1 million years.
The first train, carrying more than 4,000 55-gallon drums of waste, won't be stopped or turned around, Stutsman said. But the DOE agreed to place its waste in temporary storage once it arrives in Utah, rather than permanently disposing of it.
Stutsman said Utah regulators will have two months to develop new guidelines for disposing of the material. During that time, the empty train will begin making its way back to South Carolina to load up more waste. In all, nearly 10,000 metric tons of depleted uranium will be disposed of in Utah. The shipments are expected to be completed by late spring.
Utah regulators and EnergySolutions will "establish conservative criteria for how depleted uranium will be disposed of, with the goal of ensuring the security and safety of Utah citizens," Stutsman said.
The nuclear waste watchdog group, HEAL Utah called the agreement a "positive step," but said "the Federal Government is targeting Utah for waste no other state will take."
In a statement, Director Christopher Thomas continued, "We hope to work in concert with Governor Herbert to ensure this unwelcome guest doesn't take up permanent residence against our will."
Story compiled with contributions from The Associated Press and KSL News
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