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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has agreed to look at the security risks of shipping high-level nuclear waste across the country to a proposed temporary repository in Utah, said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
"I was pleased with his response. He did commit to doing a homeland security study, which has not been done," Huntsman told The Salt Lake Tribune's Washington office on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a Homeland Security spokesman and Huntsman's chief of staff, Jason Chaffetz, said Chertoff's agreement to look at the security risks did not necessarily mean a full-blown, formal study would be made.
Federal regulators "have looked at the safety issues, but they haven't looked at security, which, post-9-11, should be considered," Huntsman said told the Tribune Tuesday. "In the day of the dirty bomb and car bombs this needs to be elevated to that level."
Huntsman also discussed the project with Vice President Dick Cheney, who asked questions about its status and the logistics of the proposed storage.
Sue Martin, spokeswoman for Private Fuel Storage, the coalition of utility companies that has a deal with the Goshutes to store depleted nuclear fuel rods on the Skull Valley Band's reservation 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, said PFS has committed to meeting any Homeland Security requirements to guarantee the facility is safe.
She said if studies find further safeguards are warranted, they will be put in place.
PFS contends consolidating the spent fuel at one site would make it easier to protect and that there are advantages to moving the waste away from the reactors, many of which are in populous urban areas or on waterways.
Huntsman has said that a terrorist attack on the PFS facility could spread radiation across the Wasatch Front and points further east.
Huntsman said the full scope of the Homeland Security assessment is unclear, but it probably would weigh the dangers of transportation and the risks of storing the fuel at the reactors, temporarily on the Skull Valley reservation and at the proposed permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to decide soon whether to issue a license to PFS for the Utah project. However, the state has appeals pending and also could take its case to court, which Huntsman said could drag the issue out for years.
A spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch said the Utah senator asked Chertoff during the secretary's confirmation hearing to study the security aspects of the PFS plan.
"It's a very good sign and a hopeful step that he has chosen to do so," said Hatch aide Adam Elggren.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)