Gov. Norm Bangerter says the Department of Energy's exclusion of Utah from the discussion of nuclear waste transportation in the West is unacceptable.
Hundreds of shipments of low-level radioactive waste are scheduled to travel through Utah beginning this fall, en route to the new Waste Isolation Pilot Project storage facility in southeastern New Mexico.Trucks carrying shielded casks will enter Utah on I-84 near Snowville, Box Elder County, traveling south on I-15 to Ogden, heading east up Weber Canyon on I-84 and connecting with I-80 at Echo Junction.
From there, the waste will travel east through Wyoming via Evanston and Cheyenne and south through Colorado into New Mexico for storage about 2,100 feet underground in a deep salt bed.
DOE officials have indicated most of the waste passing through Utah will come from the National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho, while some will come from the Hanford nuclear plant in Washington state.
Despite Utah's involvement in the project, the DOE has failed to schedule any public hearings in the state. However, meetings are planned for Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico.
"Nobody wants radioactive waste, so it's important when we have to take it, through transportation or for storage, that the people have an absolute right to know what's going on in our state and feel comfortable that we're taking appropriate actions to ensure that the safety of our people is not compromised," Bangerter said.
The governor ordered Friday that a letter be sent to the DOE demanding a Utah hearing.
DOE officials in Albuquerque said they did not know if Bangerter's objections would force a change in the hearing schedule.
But the governor said he will not take "no" for an answer.
Low-level nuclear waste includes a variety of everyday items used to support the design, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons for national defense.
Materials include rubber gloves, laboratory glassware, rags, shoe covers, plastic bags, lab coats and other items contaminated through contact with sources of radiation, becoming low-level radioactive wastes that have long half-lives.
Anti-nuclear groups contend the DOE has led the public into believing the WIPP plant would be the destination only for low-level waste.
Steve Erickson of Downwinders said his group suspects that spent fuel rods and other highly contaminated wastes will be sent through Utah, which could threaten public and environmental health if an accident occurred.
And Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a non-profit group based in Santa Fe, N.M., charges the Energy Department has had a series of problems that raise doubts about its ability to safely regulate its operations nationwide.
"From its inception, WIPP has been tainted with public, legislative and scientific doubt," the group said in a prepared news release. "WIPP is not ready to begin receiving nuclear waste shipments and may never be."
But Utah health officials say they're confident the state is ready to protect the public against any such disasters.
Larry Anderson, state radiation health director, said electronic sensors will allow for the continuous monitoring of radioactive shipments, and emergency response teams along the transportation routes have been trained how to respond to an accident.
The environmental impact statement noted that WIPP has eliminated the possibility of accepting high-level nuclear waste. But Anderson said he expects that policy to change in the future when a high-level waste shipping cask has been approved.