Envirocare Debate Heats Up

Envirocare Debate Heats Up

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John Hollenhorst ReportingThe future of the Envirocare radioactive waste facility in Tooele County was up for discussion on Capitol Hill today. The company ran into a barrage of worries and skepticism at a lively public hearing.

The immediate issue is whether Envirocare should be allowed to accept substantially hotter radioactive waste. Another big question: are Utah's dumping fees and taxes so low they actually attract stuff to Utah that no one else wants?

Envirocare disposes of either two percent or 97 percent of the nation's radioactive waste, depending on which side's statistical spin you choose to accept. It's one example of the confusing, technically complex, sometimes downright misleading rhetoric in an increasingly fierce political battle. Lawmakers heard both sides, but critics dominated, arguing that Utah has only paltry fees on each ton of waste handled by Envirocare.

Claire Geddes, Utah Legislative Watch: "It is time to decide if Utah wants to have the national reputation of being the nation's bargain basement dumping ground for radioactive waste and nuclear weapons materials."

The state has always given Envirocare broad latitude. But a proposal to expand into hotter classes of waste has stoked the fires of opposition.

Diane Mellen, Summit County: "There is a great risk of accidents regardless of what some people will say about how safe it is. There are risks because you are dealing with the unknown. Why take a chance?"

Sammy Blackbear, Skull Valley: "Tomorrow they'll be asking for high level nuclear waste. If you don't know that you should, because that's what's going on here today."

Richard Wagner, Critic: "Every single low level nuclear waste site has leaked in the past. I see that as highly problematic."

Envirocare officials say their facility has state of the art systems to contain, cover and monitor the waste.

Dan Shrum, Envirocare: "These are all designed to prevent infiltration of water through the waste and into the groundwater."

Ken Alkema, Envirocare Vice President: "These facilities were created specifically to protect the environment. And that's why they are low risk."

Others argued that Tooele County and the state get a substantial economic benefit from the facility. But critics point out that other states have typically charged fees many times higher for similar operations.

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