About 15,000 depleted uranium drums coming to Utah

About 15,000 depleted uranium drums coming to Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Nearly 15,000 drums of depleted uranium oxide will be shipped from South Carolina for disposal in Utah under a contract awarded by the Department of Energy.

The 14,800 drums of Savannah River Site waste will be disposed of at EnergySolutions Inc.'s facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. The shipments will take place over 14 months, although it was unclear Wednesday when they would start.

The announcement, made by the Energy Department in mid-July, comes as EnergySolutions fights an effort to place a moratorium on the disposal of depleted uranium in Utah.

Depleted uranium is classified as the least dangerous type of low-level radioactive waste and has been disposed of for 18 years at the EnergySolutions' facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has acknowledged, however, that the material is different than other low-level waste because it becomes more radioactive over time for hundreds of thousands of years. The NRC is now studying whether new rules are needed for its disposal.

Since May, Utah's radiation control board has stalled on making a decision on whether to place a moratorium on the waste until the NRC develops new rules, which could take several years. Nuclear waste watchdog group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, also known as HEAL Utah, requested the moratorium.

HEAL's executive director, Vanessa Pierce, said the South Carolina shipment is evidence of why a moratorium is needed and the state's radiation control board needs to move quickly.

"It's really frustrating. Honestly, we've been working on this for over two years," Pierce said.

EnergySolutions believes there's no need for a moratorium. It has voluntarily asked state regulators to amend its license to require additional safeguards for depleted uranium, which company officials believe will meet or exceed any new rules the NRC develops for the material's disposal.

"It would turn our voluntary requirement into an absolutely legally (binding license) and we would be subject to that," said spokeswoman Jill Sigal. "We fully expect we will meet any additional requirements or regulation if they come out with any."

A radiation control board meeting scheduled for later this month was canceled this week so the board could hear from NRC staff while in town for a public hearing on depleted uranium.

In July, EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said the last shipment of depleted uranium the company received for disposal in Utah came last October.

Walker said EnergySolutions could also receive depleted uranium from Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Paducah, Ky., and Portsmouth, Ohio over the next five years.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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