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Group rallies against nuclear waste headed to Utah



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A group rallied Saturday against a trainload of nuclear waste on its way to Utah, demanding Gov. Gary Herbert send the trains back immediately. But the governor's office is standing behind a compromise he engineered.

A trainload of depleted uranium is making its way to Utah from South Carolina. Two more trainloads are delayed until a safety review is complete. The governor believes the deal he worked out is sufficient. But critics claim it's putting future generations at risk.

The rail-side rally was organized by HEAL -- the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. It's trying to stop the first of three trainloads of depleted uranium from a federal cleanup in South Carolina.

Christopher Thomas, HEAL's policy director, said, "This is wrong. It's an abuse of our state's rights. It's a threat to our health and environment. Our message today is simple: ‘Governor Herbert, turn these trains around!'"

The company shipping the depleted uranium, EnergySolutions, fired back. Company president Val Christensen said, "HEAL engages in slogans without science."

Officials accused HEAL of trying to stop nuclear power and thwart the growth of EnergySolutions, which stands to make millions burying the waste in its West Desert landfill.

"They're not interested in understanding how we safely isolate and shield human beings from the effects of depleted uranium in the short and the long term," Christensen said.

Under Gov. Herbert's compromise, the first train will unload. But EnergySolutions won't bury the waste until long-term safety studies are complete.

Governor's spokeswoman Angie Welling said, "If it ultimately is determined that this material cannot be stored safely in Utah, it will be sent back. It's not a matter of having to dig it up from the ground. It's there and ready to be shipped."

According to EnergySolutions, the train will arrive in Utah Monday or Tuesday.

HEAL's Christopher Thomas said, "Can we breathe a sigh of relief that the threat is passed? No! Not for one second."

HEAL stresses the waste actually becomes hotter over time. Law professor Ed Firmage said, "This is a terrorist act. We're bringing depleted uranium!"

But the company says it will take 40,000 years to become significantly more dangerous. It will be encased in steel and concrete, buried under compacted clay and boulders.

Christensen said, "Hundreds of years, thousands of years, tens of thousands of years from now, it's not going to pose a threat to human beings."

EnergySolutions already has 50,000 tons of depleted uranium - that's three times what's coming from South Carolina. The company says that shows it meets existing regulations. Critics say it shows the regulators are asleep at the switch.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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