SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected another of Utah's arguments against licensing a nuclear waste storage area on the Goshutes' Skull Valley Indian reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
The argument turned down on Monday was that the storage, while billed as only temporary until a permanent repository is built elsewhere, could end up being permanent.
The state still is pursuing an argument that the possibility of a fighter jet crash at the site was too great a risk.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s general counsel, Mike Lee, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he expects the NRC's final determination by the end of the summer.
"We're profoundly disappointed, but we remain optimistic about our other arguments, including the remaining argument before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," Lee said. "We're still several steps away from any point we would deem even the beginning of construction on the project to be imminent."
State attorneys had quoted Gary Lanthrum, director of the Department of Energy's transportation program, as saying that DOE waste storage contracts would prevent nuclear waste being buried in a permanent dump if the storage casks were welded shut as planned.
"Our concern is, as it has always been, once the fuel gets here, is it ever going to leave?" said Assistant Utah Attorney General Denise Chancellor.
The commission disagreed, affirming an earlier decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that sided with Private Fuel Storage, a group of electric utilities seeking to store 44,000 tons of waste on the reservation. Several letters provided by PFS from the Energy Department to various utility companies promised flexibility to accommodate waste stored in a variety of casks.
"In the face of this rather overwhelming written record, Utah offers only the unexplained (and apparently off-the-cuff) remarks of Lanthrum, and argues that his remarks require a rethinking of fundamental assumptions about the PFS project," the commission wrote, as reported by the newspaper's Washington office. "The board sensibly thought differently."
The commission noted that Lanthrum was not in the chain-of-command for such decisions and that the state was unable to offer any additional evidence that DOE policy had changed, or explain why the policy might have been altered.
"It was one of the last couple of hurdles we had to get through in this whole process, so we're pleased that the commission agreed with the licensing board and with our position," said PFS spokeswoman Sue Martin.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)