Despite the lack of a crystal ball, state radiation regulators plowed ahead to adopt new rules governing the disposal of depleted uranium in Utah — looking 10,000 years into the future.
The rule, which will be available for public comment through Jan. 8, would require EnergySolutions to complete a performance assessment of its Clive facility in Tooele County before any significant quantities of depleted uranium are accepted.
Board members also want EnergySolutions to "model" or anticipate the return of Lake Bonneville or other geologic events that could compromise safe storage of the radioactive material.
After the unanimous vote, EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said company officials believe anticipating those events up to 10,000 years is appropriate. Anything beyond that, however, turns into guesswork, board members were told.
"Beyond that it becomes conjecture," said company vice president Tom Magette.
Loren Martin, a section manager with the state Department of Environmental Quality, said trying to predict the forces that happened in the past to create Lake Bonneville is simply a "shot in the dark."
Beyond dealing with "here and now," Martin said projecting out 500 or even 1,000 years depends on if the "stars align."
But some board members insisted that safeguarding the environment and the public health far into the future is a viable concern that needs to be adequately contemplated.
"We can predict the future by looking to the past," said board member Patrick Cone, who said he believes glacial cycles need to be anticipated when it comes to ensuring safe storage of the radioactive waste.
Although classified as low-level in its nature of radioactivity, depleted uranium gets "hotter" over time.
The board's vote to impose a new rule requiring additional storage conditions comes even as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is going through its own rulemaking process.
Depleted uranium is the man-made byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. With the country's attention turning increasingly to nuclear power as an energy source, applications are pending before the national regulatory commission by industries that would produce large quantities of the material.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans to ship an estimated 10,800 tons via contract to EnergySolutions' Clive facility.
Opponents to the shipments want the new rule in place before any of the shipments arrive in Utah.
Walker said Tuesday there is no time line on the delivery; that decision rests with federal energy officials.