Drivers along I-15 and I-80 in northern Utah may see some strange trucks on the freeway starting next month.
The vehicles will carry nuclear waste, but not the scary kind that can kill you. It will be contaminated clothing and tools used in handling high-level nuclear materials.Wednesday morning, half a dozen state legislators were briefed on the coming radioactive shipments that will come from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in southern Idaho. They will travel through northern Utah on their way to a special Department of Energy storage facility outside of Carlsbad, N.M.
While Utah state officials battle to stop the storage and shipment of high-level nuclear waste within the state, they actually endorse the low-level waste-shipment plan.
State science adviser Suzanne Winters told lawmakers there is a world of difference between this low-level waste shipment plan and the proposal by the Goshute Indian Tribe for a high-level radioactive storage facility on its reservation in Utah's west desert.
The Energy Department has planned the Carlsbad storage facility and truck transportation for 20 years. State officials were heavily involved in planning the routes that the DOE trucks will take. More than 700 Utah law enforcement and emergency medical officials have been trained to deal with accidents. DOE officials say they have taken every precaution.
Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-East Mill Creek, a University of Utah chemical engineering professor, said he thinks the DOE plan is "pretty safe."
"This is low-level stuff, not the high-level radioactive material that is very dangerous," Tyler said.
The shipments from the Idaho facility could start as soon as June 19. Dennis Hurtt, head of public affairs for the Carlsbad facility, said federal officials fully expect an environmental group to sue to stop the shipments. "But we are ready for that, and shipments should start sometime this year."
Ultimately, the Carlsbad facility will take material from throughout the Western United States. The facility will take the low-level waste for an estimated 35 years and bury it a half mile below the surface in salt beds that have been geographically undisturbed for more than 200 million years.