LDS Church Leaders Join Opposition to Radioactive Storage Site

LDS Church Leaders Join Opposition to Radioactive Storage Site

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is adding it's voice to the cacophony of objections to a decision to allow a radioactive waste storage facility to be built in Utah's west desert.

In a statement issued late Friday, church leaders said:

"We regret (the) decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to authorize the issuance of a license that would allow storage of radioactive waste in Skull Valley. Storage of nuclear waste in Utah is a matter of significant public interest that requires thorough scrutiny."

Hours earlier, the Nuclear Regulatory Commissioned announced it had rejected claims that proposed storage site was too dangerous and had authorized a license for the facility.

Private Fuels Storage will contract with the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians to build the facility on their reservation about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The facility will have the capacity to hold 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods.

It is the first license to be granted for a high-level waste facility in more than 30 years.

Politicians and community environmental groups have fought the plan for eight years. But Mormon church leaders had not previously voiced an opinion, and some the statement released Friday is a significant.

"The church is the only political entity in the state powerful enough to defend us," said Maryann Webster, a church member who has long petitioned leaders to help fight the proposal. "I hope they will speak more strongly and work to prevent it."

Waste opponents will continue to block the commission's decision -- something about 87 percent of Utahns oppose, according to polling in 2002.

State leaders say only Private Fuels Storage and Goshute tribal members, most of whom live below the poverty level, are the only beneficiaries of the commission's decision.

Michael S. Lee, chief counsel for Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., says Utah will take a three-pronged approach to fighting the facility, taking their objections to the federal court, to Congress and to federal agencies.

Former Rep. Jim Hansen still sees the U.S. Capitol as Utah's best hope, but says his bill to block the waste site's rail route with wilderness would have succeeded a few years ago if an environmentalist had not stymied the move.

The bill is being carried this year by Hansen's successor, Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop. It has passed in the House but stalled once again in the Senate.

"I don't know that it can be done, but we are going to keep trying," said U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, also a Republican.

But some wonder if the Utah congressional delegation's support of the Yucca Mountain projected has doomed the state's chances of getting any help from others in Congress, particularly U.S. Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and a Mormon.

Jason Groenewold, director of the Health Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL), notes that a deep rift divides Utah leaders from Reid.

"It may be time to change strategies," said Groenewold. "And we hope that Senators Bennett and Hatch will work with our allies in the West rather than alienating them."

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

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