Vote may delay arrival of depleted uranium in Utah

Vote may delay arrival of depleted uranium in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's Radiation Control Board has ordered a company that wants to import nuclear waste into the state to first submit a report confirming that additional safeguards will work.

The board voted Tuesday to require EnergySolutions Inc. to complete a "site performance assessment" before additional depleted uranium comes to Utah.

The move comes less than a month after the board refused to block the company's plans to dispose of depleted uranium waste from the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear weapons complex in South Carolina.

Nearly 15,000 drums of the depleted uranium were slated to start arriving in December at the company's facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. But the company does not expect the updated assessment to be done until December 2010.

EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said in a statement that Tuesday's vote contradicts the board's decision last month.

"The board correctly refused to impose a moratorium (on depleted uranium) last month but took action today that is equivalent to a moratorium, an action that is inconsistent with Utah state law," Walker said.

Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the nuclear waste watchdog group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, applauded Tuesday's vote. HEAL has sought at least a temporary moratorium on depleted uranium.

"The board has wisely identified the root of the problem as putting the depleted-uranium cart before the horse," Pierce said.

Depleted uranium is different from other low-level radioactive waste because it becomes more radioactive over time for up to 1 million years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognized that distinction earlier this year and is taking public comments on how it should be handled.

The rule-making process for the waste isn't expected to be finished until 2012 at the earliest.

The wording of the amendment approved Tuesday will undergo a 30-day public comment period. The board may finalize the amendment at its Dec. 8 meeting.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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