Opponents to the storage of depleted uranium at EnergySolution's Clive facility in Tooele County were dismayed Thursday to learn the Department of Energy has given federal regulators the green light for its storage in Utah.
Among those voicing criticism over the department's decision was Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who announced in a news release that he had been notified the first of three shipments of the radioactive material are being readied for transport.
"I am very disappointed that this material is headed to Utah, despite my concerns. I will continue to press the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) for an appropriate review of necessary safety standards for this waste, which essentially remains hazardous forever," he said.
Questions over the ultimate destination of 15,000 drums of the material had been raised, given steps Utah regulators are taking to impose new restrictions on its storage in the state.
In addition to new licensing requirements, the state is proposing to adopt a rule which would require additional assessments on the ability of EnergySolutions to assure the material's safe storage for up to 10,000 years.
Storing depleted uranium has raised concerns because although classified as low-level radioactive waste, it gets "hotter" over time. Depleted uranium is a man-made byproduct of the uranium enrichment process that was used to make nuclear weapons during the Cold War era. The material also has military applications today because it is denser than lead or iron and can penetrate armor.
Opponents such as HEAL Utah have been prodding state regulators and Gov. Gary Herbert to, at the very least, urge the Department of Energy to hold off any shipments until the new restrictions are in place.
The organization's executive director, Vanessa Pierce, said the absence of such a message has been interpreted by the federal government as a clear signal that it's OK for the depleted uranium to come to Utah.
Herbert's "unwillingness to take action on this when he has cover from the radiation control board, the majority of Utahns and at least one member of our Congressional delegation — what else is it going to take? Whose interests is he fighting for? This is not leadership."
Pierce said she met with Herbert's environmental policy adviser, Ted Wilson, last month and made clear the governor should take a position.
"This has been on his radar," she said, adding that the concerns of the organization were detailed in the meeting.
The governor's office did not respond to requests for a comment.