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Appeal Filed in Nuclear Waste Storage Decision

Appeal Filed in Nuclear Waste Storage Decision

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's governor and attorney general want the U.S. Supreme Court to decide who has authority over the transportation and storage of nuclear waste, the latest move in the battle to keep thousands of tons of radioactive waste out of the state.

On Friday, Gov. Olene Walker and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced the filing of a petition with the high court to review an August ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

That ruling upheld a lower court which rejected Utah laws enacted to block a nuclear waste repository proposed for the Goshutes' Skull Valley reservation.

The federal government alone has complete authority to license and regulate the transportation and storage of high-level nuclear waste, the Denver-based court ruled, siding with a lower judge that laws enacted between 1998 and 2001 to prevent the storage of 40,000 tons of nuclear waste on the tribal lands conflicted with federal law.

State lawmakers passed significant laws aimed at protecting citizens from the hazards of moving waste across highways should such a site be located in the state, Walker and Shurtleff said. Those laws were wrongly upset by the federal moves, they said.

"I oppose high-level nuclear waste storage in Utah and hope the waste never comes here, that we never have to rely on these laws," Walker said. "But history has taught us that a strong framework of federal and state law is needed, especially when dealing with high-level nuclear waste. If it comes here, it will never leave."

The Skull Valley Band has been locked in a leadership battle since Tribal Chairman Leon Bear signed a lease in 1997 allowing Private Fuel Storage to store up to 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel in upright steel-and-concrete casks on Goshute land.

The tribe's deal was largely seen as a way for the band to emerge from poverty, and for Private Fuel Storage -- a consortium of seven electrical utilities -- to meet the demand of plants that are fast running out of onsite storage for the depleted but radioactive fuel rods.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is expected to decide early next year whether Skull Valley can safely keep nuclear fuel. The board in March 2003 stalled construction by ruling the chances of a fighter jet from Hill Air Force Base crashing into the storage pad makes the project too risky. It has taken arguments for and against that decision and is weighing other aspects of the project.

As planned, the storage pad would hold up to 4,000 casks filled with depleted nuclear fuel -- about 10 million rods -- across 100 acres of the Skull Valley. The waste would be shipped over rail lines, mostly from reactors east of the Mississippi. Utah has no nuclear power plants.

Both major party candidates for governor, Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. and Democrat Scott Matheson Jr., oppose the facility, as do the members of Utah's congressional delegation.

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

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