NRC Clears Way for Private Fuel Storage License

NRC Clears Way for Private Fuel Storage License

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday authorized a license for a private company to build a nuclear waste storage site on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, rejecting the state of Utah's arguments that the site was too dangerous.

Private Fuel Storage, a group of utilities, wants to store 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel at the site about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Utah officials had argued the facility would be too close to a major population center and that the risk of a jet fighter from Hill Air Force Base crashing into the storage casks was too great.

But in a meeting that lasted about two minutes, commissioners dismissed the argument, taking a two-pronged vote. First, they affirmed an earlier ruling that containers for the waste wouldn't release an unacceptable amount of radiation if a jet fighter crashed into them. Then they voted 3-1 to authorize the NRC staff to issue a license to construct and operate the storage site.

The license will be ready after paperwork is completed, said NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner. The time the license would be issued was not immediately available.

"I'm very happy," said Paul Gaukler, an attorney who has represented Private Fuel Storage in its quest to build the waste facility for eight years. "People can be assured it's a safe facility. The issue has been fully aired and resolved. Thank goodness -- finally."

Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett were not immediately available for comment.

Utah politicians have made numerous attempts to block construction of the storage site, including a last-minute unsuccessful attempt in July to amend the energy bill to require a terrorism threat study before the NRC could grant a license. The effort failed when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid objected.

State officials have said they would fight the license in court if necessary. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

An impoverished tribe, the Goshutes had been looking for ways to make money and eventually teamed with Private Fuel Storage to propose the station.

Private Fuel Storage's facility would be a temporary dump pending the opening of a national repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Reid, the Senate minority leader, has proposed storing nuclear waste at the facilities where it is created -- an alternative to both the Private Fuel Storage site and Yucca Mountain.

Under Private Fuel Storage's proposal, the waste would be kept above ground in 4,000 steel casks, which can hold up to 10 tons of spent fuel. The casks would be shielded in an overpack of two steel shells encasing a wall of concrete more than two feet thick.

There are still more regulatory hurdles before construction can begin. The Bureau of Indian Affairs must issue final approval of the lease between the company and the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians. And the Bureau of Land Management must approve a way for Private Fuel Storage to build and operate a rail line through federal land to a Union Pacific Railroad main line.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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