Huntsman Hedging on Nuclear Waste Issue?

Huntsman Hedging on Nuclear Waste Issue?

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Governor-elect Jon Huntsman appears to be hedging on his campaign's opposition to bringing hotter nuclear waste into Utah.

Now his staff says he's unlikely to take any extra steps because, they contend, current state law already prohibits accepting hotter waste.

"He doesn't believe there's any need for action," said Neil Ashdown, Huntsman's deputy chief of staff.

The sentiment contrasts with Huntsman's campaign statements, including one in which he said, "If elected governor, I shall use the full force of my office to oppose all efforts to bring into our state any radioactive waste other than what is currently permitted. This includes those levels classified as B and C waste," he said.

Huntsman could kill Envirocare of Utah's conditional permit to accept such waste by sending the state Department of Environmental Quality a letter expressing official disapproval.

But he likely won't because he and his staff believe B and C wastes already are illegal under state law, and sending a letter or issuing an executive order "could create legal challenges that could be unproductive," Ashdown said.

State regulators in 2001 signed off on Envirocare's technical plan for taking class B and C wastes. The material is hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than class A waste, which is mostly tainted soil.

A clause in the state permit says if either the Legislature or governor does not approve the facility to receive class B or C waste, "this license is immediately terminated."

Envirocare and state officials have generally interpreted the permit's clause to mean the governor and Legislature would have to actively approve the waste before it could come to Utah.

But officials say the permit could also be interpreted to mean the governor could kill the permit with his written disapproval.

"There's no reason he couldn't," said Bill Sinclair, deputy director of DEQ. "There's no reason he couldn't."

Lawmakers in October killed by one vote a proposal to establish an outright ban on the acceptance of hotter radioactive waste. The proposal would have prevented any entity in the state, which so far is limited to Envirocare, from accepting B and C wastes.

Lawmakers said then that such a ban wasn't needed because state law already bans it without express permission from both the Legislature and the governor. But critics say without a ban, there is still a possibility hotter waste could be approved.

And on Tuesday, Charles Judd -- once president of Envirocare, said he would seek a permit to accept B and C waste and highly radioactive material from a Fernald, Ohio, Superfund site at his proposed Cedar Mountain waste site in Tooele County.

Envirocare officials have said they have no plans to pursue their permit to accept the hotter waste, but they also don't plan to relinquish it.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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