"While these documented cases are concerning, we are more concerned the Division of Radiation Control's lack of independent oversight could allow many more shipments of greater than Class A waste to be disposed of at the site and never detected," the audit stated.
Among the "internal control weaknesses" identified in government oversight are:
• EnergySolutions polices its own waste disposal operations.
• The division has no independent controls over classification of containerized waste.
• The division's permit program lacks independent review of waste generators, giving rise to questions about the origin and nature of the waste, including if it comes from foreign countries.
"We questioned how the Division of Radiation Control and EnergySolutions can really know what it is in the containers if it is not independently verified," the audit noted. "We were told that they can only trust that the generators and brokers are honest and accurate with their waste classifications reported on the shipping manifest."
Smith said regulators are willing to institute additional safeguards for a more robust system, but it comes down to cost and policy considerations.
"All of our divisions and all of our programs are based on self-regulation. That is the way it is done across the board," she said. "The audit is really focused on because of those differences in our state and does it justify greater regulatory practices than what is found in our other programs."
Such a rigorous system of assuring waste classification prior to disposal would mean that "EnergySolutions should be regulated differently, differently than any other entity in the country that does business," she said.
Smith said such a system could ultimately give greater assurance on adherence to state and policy restrictions, but she questioned how much it would enhance the division's ultimate goal of protection of public health.
"Because we have a policy of no greater than Class A waste, the audit says we should be tracking that backward and having more independent oversight," Smith said, "but that is not based on protecting public health, but on making sure the policy is followed."
She added, too, that the federal regulatory system of waste classification is based on a robust framework that Utah participates in, and checking the waste on site, prior to disposal, is more complicated than "just popping the lid."
"The problem is that is not how it is done," Smith said. "You're exposing workers to an unnecessary amount of radiation."
The audit gave critics of the radioactive waste industry and EnergySolutions ample ammunition to fire off another complaint that the industry gets away with too much in the state.
"There is no accountability for EnergySolutions," said HEAL Utah Executive Director Christopher Thomas. "The system is broken, and it's the Utah public who is paying the price."
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