Utahns to Have Another Chance to Comment on Nuke Storage Site

Utahns to Have Another Chance to Comment on Nuke Storage Site

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal Bureau of Land Management plans to ask Utahns to comment on a proposed temporary nuclear waste dump in the state's Skull Valley, a move that opponents of the project hope could lead the agency to block access to the site.

The BLM must sign off on rights of way needed to access the storage site on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The agency took public comments on the proposal several years ago.

This week, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued to the Interior Department that the government should ask for new public input because it had not considered the terrorist target posed by such an aboveground storage facility. He also said new information showed Private Fuel Storage -- the coalition of utilities applying to build it -- was crumbling.

The new round of comments and information about PFS's financial stability could lead the BLM to block the rights of way, according to Hatch's office.

No one from the Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management, was immediately available for comment Friday night.

Hatch declared the BLM decision a victory, and said Friday he would urge Utah residents to write in to oppose the project.

"My intent here is to get rid of the Skull Valley project," he told reporters. "I'm going to do that any way I can."

But the consortium of utilities may not be as close to unraveling as Hatch suggests.

On Thursday, two of the eight utilities that make up PFS -- Southern Nuclear Operating Co. and Xcel Energy -- said they had dropped their support for the Skull Valley project.

Hatch said that six companies, including Southern, had suspended their funding in 2002. With more dropping out, just one active member was left, he said. One company could not hope to finance the project alone, he said.

"The viability of the PFS proposal is now seriously threatened," Hatch wrote to Interior Secretary Gale Norton. He asked her to consider the information when deciding PFS's request for rights of way.

Hatch cited a 2002 letter in which Southern and five other members promised to "commit no funds to construction of the PFS facility past the licensing phase."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in September authorized a license for the facility -- which would be used to store 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel -- but the process is not complete.

In interviews with The Associated Press, two of the six companies said they were still funding PFS and had no plans to drop out. Two others could not be reached Friday.

"All the operators of power plants need a place to store their fuel for the long term, and this facility may be one of the answers," said Todd Schneider, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., one of the PFS partners.

Diane Park, a spokeswoman for Entergy Nuclear, said that her company is an active PFS partner and has not decided what its future relationship with PFS will be.

Southern California Edison dropped its funding for PFS in 1999 but is still a participant, said spokesman Ray Golden.

Hatch's spokesman Peter Carr said the senator's staff must have misinterpreted the 2002 letter.

"Our interpretation of their letter to us was that they were becoming passive investors in the project," he said. "We have made excellent progress with the few members of PFS we have been focusing on so far, as is evidenced with the recent actions by Southern Company and Xcel Energy."

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

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