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EnergySolutions gets delay on issues surrounding depleted uranium storage

Published: Thursday, Sept. 4 2014 7:06 a.m. MDT

This Feb. 8, 2007, file photo, shows a warning sign attached to rail cars containing low-level radioactive waste ready for processing at the EnergySolutions facility, in Clive, Utah. EnergySolutions has been given a two-month extension to answer questions raised in an independent analysis over "deep geologic time" issues surrounding the storage of depleted uranium at its Clive site. The review now begins in November.

Douglas C. Pizac, AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions has asked for an additional two months to answer questions raised over the storage of depleted uranium in Utah's western desert when it comes to scenarios that may arise in "deep geologic" time.

The delay, granted by Utah regulators, bumps a public review process from September to November and puts off two public hearings that had been scheduled for later this month.

Donna Kemp Spangler, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency was ready to move forward with public review of the documents associated with permanent disposal of the radioactive material, but deferred to EnergySolutions' request.

"We have worked diligently to meet their schedule, but they have asked for a delay so we will certainly meet their request," she said. "This whole process started with their application with the state to take this depleted uranium, and it is within their purview to have additional time since it is their site assessment."

EnergySolutions is positioning itself to be a recipient of the nation's repository of depleted uranium — classified as low-level radioactive waste — and was required by Utah to draft a site-specific performance assessment of how the Clive site would fare under any number of scenarios.

Depleted uranium — the man-made byproduct of the uranium enrichment process — is considered a unique waste stream because it gets more radioactive over time, not peaking until about 2 million years into the future.

For purposes of radioactive waste classification, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers depleted uranium low-level radioactive waste, but it has yet to formulate any regulatory standard governing its disposal.

The absence of such a federal rule has left states like Texas and Utah to fill the void because of waste disposal companies desiring contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy, which is ultimately tasked with finding a home for 700,000 metric tons of the material.

EnergySolutions hired its own consultants to prepare the lengthy assessment of its site and, in turn, the state Division of Radiation Control hired independent consultants to review the company's analysis.

Differences between the two documents have prompted a back-and-forth exchange, resulting in a submission late this summer of a revised performance assessment.

In the Tuesday letter requesting the delay, Vern Rogers, EnergySolutions' acting manager of compliance and permitting, said a more thorough response is necessary to tackle "resolution" of the comments raised over depleted uranium storage over deep geologic time.

"Since significant comments on the draft proposed agreement have recently been received from the state of Utah and the U.S. Department of Energy, EnergySolutions considers resolution of the additional comments raised critical to providing the public with a comprehensive overview of the Depleted Uranium Performance Assessment," Rogers wrote.

Rogers asked state regulators to delay the start of the public review period from Sept. 8 to Nov. 3.

The delay now has the public comment process ending Dec. 19.

HEAL Utah, which is opposed to the storage of depleted uranium in Utah, voiced concerns Wednesday that such a delay bumps the public participation process into the holidays, when people are at their busiest.

"We have no problem with more time, but we're very concerned that the company's proposal pushes the critical public comment period smack dab into the holiday season," said Christopher Thomas, executive director of HEAL. "We're worried that EnergySolutions might be trying to deliver their turkey of a nuclear waste plan right when Utahns have the least time to digest it."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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