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Radiation oversight audit prompts Gov. Gary Herbert to reconsider board appointment

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 12 2012 5:54 p.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. State regulators should stop relying solely on the honor system in its monitoring of companies bringing low-level radioactive waste into the state, according to a legislative audit.  (Douglas C. Pizac, AP) 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. State regulators should stop relying solely on the honor system in its monitoring of companies bringing low-level radioactive waste into the state, according to a legislative audit. (Douglas C. Pizac, AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said he will reconsider his nomination of an EnergySolutions employee to the Radiation Control Board given the findings of a legislative audit that said regulatory oversight of radioactive waste is lacking in Utah.

Herbert earlier this summer selected EnergySolutions' Dan Shrum as a nominee to the eight-member board, which sets policy regarding regulation of the radioactive waste industry in Utah, including EnergySolutions.

As mandated by law, one of those members of the board should be a representative from the industry. But critics assailed Shrum's nomination as a conflict of interest that should be rejected.

On Wednesday, those same critics said Herbert should do more than just "rethink" his choice, but pull it all together.

"It’s downright appalling that Gov. Herbert ever contemplated appointing an EnergySolutions executive to the state's main nuclear waste policy board," said  Christopher Thomas, HEAL Utah's executive director.

This Feb. 8, 2007, file photo, shows a caution sign hanging on a fence at the EnergySolutions facility, in Clive, Utah. State regulators should stop relying solely on the honor system in its monitoring of companies bringing low-level radioactive waste into the state, according to a legislative audit.  (Douglas C. Pizac, AP) This Feb. 8, 2007, file photo, shows a caution sign hanging on a fence at the EnergySolutions facility, in Clive, Utah. State regulators should stop relying solely on the honor system in its monitoring of companies bringing low-level radioactive waste into the state, according to a legislative audit. (Douglas C. Pizac, AP)

After the contention over Shrum's pending appointment surfaced during last month's meeting of the Legislature, the Utah Senate delayed action on the vote in favor of a more thorough review — which was set for next week.

On Tuesday, a audit probing the regulatory oversight of the state Division of Radiation Control was detailed before a committee of lawmakers.

Performed by the Office of Legislative Auditor General, the audit concluded the division depended too much on EnergySolutions' self-reporting of the low-level radioactive waste buried at its Clive facility in Tooele County.

Instead of insisting on a more thorough and independent sampling of the radioactive waste received at Clive, the division follows the standard environmental regulatory practice of letting the industry police itself and self-report any subsequent mistakes.

Auditors said because of Utah's unique relationship with EnergySolutions as a private company in control of a private waste disposal site, plus the state's ban on so-called "hotter" waste, additional methods of waste verification should be carried out.

"The independent verification is an absolute must in our opinion," Auditor General John Schaff told legislative members of the Audit Subcommittee.

In light of the audit's findings, several advocacy groups called on Herbert and the Legislature to withdraw Shrum from consideration as a nominee to the board.

The audit also prompted Herbert to express his concern over the audit's conclusions, stressing that the "regulatory oversight of radioactive waste deserves the utmost attention."

After hearing the audit presentation and the agency response in a public legislative hearing Tuesday, Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, lambasted state regulators, questioning if the department and one of its directors should be fired.

Herbert stopped short of such a response, but did say the audit exposed the clear existence of "additional issues" that need to be addressed for public health and safety reasons.

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