Critics blast regulator's decision to allow blended N-waste at EnergySolutions' site

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 4:55 p.m. MST

Linda Clark, left, and Stephanie Tomlin join others in holding signs at the rally against a state regulatory agency allowing EnergySolutions to accept blended waste at its facility in Tooele County. A group of supporters of HEAL Utah gathers at a small rally at the headquarters of the Department of Environmental Quality Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, before a meeting with the Radiation Control Board. They want to stop blended waste from being brought into the state.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Anti-nuclear activists were joined Tuesday by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in their criticism of a state regulatory agency's decision to allow EnergySolutions to accept blended nuclear waste in advance of completing new safety assessments at its Tooele County site.

The December decision by Rusty Lundberg, director of the state Division of Radiation Control, means EnergySolutions can accept up to 40,000 cubic feet of blended waste for disposal — or less than 1 percent of the total volume of waste the company can accept — at its facility in Clive.

HEAL Utah hosted a rally Tuesday at the Department of Environmental Quality prior to a meeting of the Radiation Control Board.

Linda Johnson, co-president of Salt Lake City’s League of Women Voters, said she was at the rally representing herself and urged greater study of the issue.

“Since there is no pressing need, we shouldn’t act rashly and gut our ban on hotter waste,” Johnson said.

In the meeting afterward, Lundberg explained to board members the decision to allow the smaller quantities of blended waste in advance of EnergySolutions completing a site-specific performance analysis to deal with the unique stream of waste. As long as the material is still classified as class A radioactive waste after it is processed in Tennessee, the state of Utah has no "jurisdictional authority" to dictate the manner or policy implications that arise from processing the waste.

He said the decision conforms with a new rule adoped by the board earlier this year and a public comment on the decision begins Jan. 17 and concludes Feb. 17. Comments can be sent to radpublic@utah.gov.

Lundberg added that EnergySolutions will have to complete its update to a performance assessment that contemplates taking larger or significant quantities of blended waste. That assessment is due in December and will not only look at the "radioactivity" of the resins after processing but in particular examine the question of what constitutes "significant."

Matheson's criticism echoes concerns voiced by HEAL, specifically in asking why the division would put the "cart before the horse," and allow the waste in advance of the assessment being completed.

In a letter to Lundberg sent Monday, Matheson said he was surprised and concerned at the decision and says large-scale waste blending appears to be a "back-door" means to dispose of hotter levels of radioactive waste in a state like Utah — which specifically prohibits hotter class B and class C wastes.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon also voiced his disapproval, saying the decision to allow the waste is premature in advance of the analysis being completed.

Although the Radiation Control Board adopted a public policy statement in opposition to  blending waste, it also conceded that at disposal it is no "hotter" than what EnergySolutions is already licensed to accept. With that understanding, the board said blended waste presents no greater threat to public health and welfare than the low-level radioactive waste received at Clive.

EnergySolutions has entered into a contractual partnership with Studsvik, a Swedish waste processing company with a facility in Tennessee, to receive waste that may contain resins with higher radioactivity that have been blended with low-level radioactive waste. The waste is then superheated through a process called THOR. The waste, although higher in radioactivity, is still considered within the threshold of class A waste.

“We are not trying to circumvent the ban on class B and C waste,” said EnergySolutions’ Mark Walker. “If it is anything greater than class A material, it won’t come to Clive and regulators know it.”

Earlier in the day, Amanda Smith, executive director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the board and Radiation Control Division are tasked with looking at the science of the material being accepted by EnergySolutions and if it meets the legal parameters contained within EnergySolutions' operating license.

"There's never been a question as to whether the facility can legally take it," she said. "While it will increase the level of radioactivity at the site, we know it is still well below what the site is licensed to handle and it remains protective of public health and safety."

Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah's policy director, said the board and division should err on the side of caution and apply broader policy implications  to regulatory rules that prohibit the hotter waste coming to Utah in any form — even if it has been processed to constitute class A waste.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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