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Tribe, Utility Groups Sue Over Scuttled Utah Nuke Dump

Tribe, Utility Groups Sue Over Scuttled Utah Nuke Dump



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A lawsuit filed by an American Indian tribe against the federal government for blocking a nuclear waste repository, revealed for the first time Tuesday how much money the tribe stood to gain by accepting the waste in Utah's west desert.

The Skull Valley band of Goshute Indians was receiving $200,000 a year while waiting for federal approvals to accept 44,000 tons of spent fuel rods --an amount that was to increase to $1 million a year with the arrival of the waste, "plus an opportunity for profit-sharing," court papers disclosed.

Private Fuel Storage, a group of nuclear-power utilities, cut off the payments after the U.S. Interior Department blocked the plan last September, the lawsuit said.

Tribal Chairman Leon Bear signed the lease with Private Fuel Storage in 1997. It wasn't clear how much money the tribe had received before being cut off, but some estimates said the tribe stood to gain as much as $3 billion for accepting the waste on its barren reservation for 40 years. Only about 30 members live on the 18,540-acre reservation. Bear did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Interior Department all but killed the plan last September, even though Private Fuel Storage had obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the stockpile. The consortium always maintained the stockpile would have been a stopgap pending the federal government's opening of a permanent repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. That project has encountered numerous delays and isn't expected to open before 2017.

The Goshutes and PFS sued the Interior Department on Tuesday, asserting it killed the project for political reasons under pressure from the Bush administration and Utah's leading politicians.

At the time, the Interior Department said the project wasn't in the public interest or part of the government's strategy for dealing with nuclear waste.

The Interior Department also refused to yield federal land for a transfer station where spent fuel rods would be transferred from rail cars to tractor-trailers for the final 30 miles to the Skull Valley reservation. That decision was arbitrary, contrary to law and unsupported by any facts, contends the lawsuit.

Last September, the Interior Department voided the Goshute's lease with Private Fuel Storage, declaring the project wasn't in the public interest or part of the government's strategy for dealing with nuclear waste.

The agency also refused to yield federal land for a transfer station where spent fuel rods would be transferred from rail cars to tractor-trailers for the final 30 miles to the Skull Valley reservation. The decision wasn't a final blow, but left the Goshutes with few options. An environmental advocate characterized the Goshute's setback akin to having a car but no license to drive and under orders to stay off the road.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and others greeted the decision with glee and declared the project dead, but Private Fuel Storage suggested it wasn't finished. The utility group and tribe struck back with the lawsuit Tuesday, calling Interior's decision political, made by political appointees for political reasons. The Associated Press couldn't get an after-hours response Tuesday from the Interior Department.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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