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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Sen. Bob Bennett says he established a roadblock to transportation of highly concentrated radioactive waste from Ohio and New York to Utah for disposal.
The Utah Republican said Monday that at his urging, House and Senate negotiators included wording in the omnibus spending bill that effectively blocks any Utah disposal of the uranium tailings until state regulators assume oversight of it from the federal government.
The new wording temporarily blocks a provision in the energy and water spending bill that reclassified the Ohio and New York waste so it could go to Envirocare's landfill in western Utah.
"I agree with Gov. (Olene) Walker that no waste should be stored in Utah that is any hotter than that which has been disposed and processed here for the past 15 years," said Bennett. "I believe that state officials, not federal, should make the decisions about how much and how hot."
Bennett's action comes after Envirocare dropped out of the proposed disposal in the wake of angry opposition in Utah. Envirocare asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Nov. 19 to withdraw a pending license-change request. The company also pledged publicly not to bid on the $14 million disposal contract for the Ohio waste pending legislative approval and the state Department of Environmental Quality getting regulatory oversight from the commission for such tailings.
The U.S. Energy Department is working on disposing of material at Fernald, Ohio, and Niagara Falls, N.Y., left over from plants that processed highly concentrated uranium ore for use in nuclear weapons.
Congress last month reclassified the waste in a provision of the Energy and Water Appropriations Act of 2004 at the urging of the Energy Department and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Bishop contended that shipping the waste by rail to Utah for disposal at Envirocare would be cheaper and safer that trucking it to Nevada for disposal at the government's Nevada Test Site.
Bennett, who had come under fire for not objecting when the provision was slipped in the energy and water appropriations bill, said the wording he inserted in the omnibus spending bill "takes the NRC out of the driver's seat so that Utah officials determine Utah's involvement."
"Cleanup at the Fernald and Niagara sites can still continue, but we're changing the law so that Utah will be making the decisions for our state, not the NRC," he said.
The provision is in effect until Jan. 1, 2005, about the time Utah's moratorium on hotter waste sunsets and a legislative task force recommends a statewide policy on hotter radioactive waste.
"I think Sen. Bennett's done a great job for the state of Utah," said Walker, who contends accepting the Fernald waste would open the door to Utah becoming a nuclear and radioactive waste site for the nation.
"Once you accept one, you get them all," she said. Activist Claire Geddes said, "I would have much preferred he (Bennett) had said, 'We won't take it at all in Utah."'
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)