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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) -- The government on Thursday rejected a bid for a scaled-back plan for a nuclear waste dump in Utah's west desert, but said the proposal can be resubmitted.
The Atomic Safety Licensing Board said the request was not filed properly. The three-judge panel said Private Fuel Storage could try again, and that their effort would be expedited.
PFS's attorneys told the board that the scaled-down site would decrease the chances of a jet fighter crashing into the facility, a possibility that concerned Utah officials and deemed too great a risk by the board.
The waste site would be under the flight pattern for the nation's largest military training range.
The smaller facility would have 336 casks with 21/2-foot-thick concrete and steel walls. Initially, PFS had proposed storing 4,000 casks containing 40,000 metric tons of radioactive waste.
In March, the board blocked that proposal, saying the risk of a crash at the storage facility was four times higher than the one-in-1 million chance that it deemed acceptable.
Thursday, the three-judge board held the hearing to determine whether to issue the conditional license for the smaller storage site. The board said that instead of an appeal to the March decision, the smaller site would have to be filed as an amended petition.
Attorneys for Utah argued that a new plan would allow PFS to get its foot in the door and eventually fulfill its original proposal.
"This is outrageous, 336 casks is a ruse. The number means nothing," said assistant Utah Attorney General Jim Soper. He added that the PFS request for a scaled-down waste site wasn't proper procedure.
Judge Jerry Kline asked PFS attorneys if they would be content with the smaller site.
"Would that satisfy you? Would you take your license and go home?" he asked.
"We see this as an interim step to achieving the full-sized facility," responded PFS attorney Paul Gaukler.
The Air Force flies thousands of training missions each year over the sprawling Utah Test and Training Range near the Skull Valley Goshute reservation.
Proposing a smaller facility makes it less likely the storage site would be hit in a plane crash, bringing the calculated risk to a level the licensing board said would be acceptable.
PFS has appealed the board's March decision to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is seeking to convince the board that the concrete casks could withstand an F-16 crash.
PFS, a consortium of eight electric utilities, wants to store the waste at a temporary storage facility on the Skull Valley Goshute reservation until a permanent dump can be built at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Commercial nuclear power plants around the country are running out of space to store their spent reactor fuel, and storage pools at many plants are full.
The Skull Valley Band of Goshutes, an impoverished tribe whose reservation is in the barren desert 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, sought the economic benefits of the project and signed a deal with PFS to pursue the plan.
The reservation is tucked among a low-level nuclear waste dump, a chemical weapons incinerator and storehouse, an Army chemical and biological testing range and an Air Force bombing range.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)