SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions wants to bury 10,000 tons of depleted uranium munition tips at its Tooele facility in Clive — much of that coming from 50 miles away at the Tooele Army Depot.
The acceptance of the radioactive material requires the state Waste Management and Radiation Control Board to grant an exemption to a Utah moratorium that prevents the company from accepting more than a metric ton of that waste.
A hearing Thursday delved into the issue, with dueling presentations from EnergySolutions and HEAL Utah, an environmental watchdog group opposed to the storage.
"Your obligation is to protect the public health in perpetuity," said Dr. Scott Williams, executive director of HEAL Utah, not just for a couple of generations.
Tim Orton, with EnergySolutions, said depleted uranium in metal form is less hazardous than as an oxide.
The Department of Defense is seeking disposal of the radioactive waste from the Tooele Army Depot and the Crane Army installation in Indiana.
"They have already begun disassembling them," Orton said. "They're looking for a place."
EnergySolutions is proposing to take 2,500 tons of the 30 mm munition tips over a four-year period. The waste represents less than 1 percent of the facility's annual volume and makes up 5,000 cubic yards, Orton said.
It would add to the 49,000 tons of depleted uranium already buried on site, he added.
"We have safely demonstrated through seven (risk assessments) that we can safely dispose of depleted uranium," he said.
Utah enacted the moratorium in 2011 in response to the U.S. Department of Energy seeking disposal of 800,000 tons of powder depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium is a unique waste stream because it gets hotter over time, not reaching its peak radioactivity until 2 million years.
Orton, however, pointed out that depleted uranium is less radioactive than the naturally occurring uranium from which it comes.
"Uranium is ubiquitous," he said. "It is all around us."
But given the significant quantities of depleted uranium oxide needing storage, the state enacted the moratorium and required EnergySolutions to conduct a site-specific risk assessment of its facility and what conditions would be enacted for storage.
That process is underway, and completely different than the request to be exempt from the moratorium, Orton said.
Orton added the moratorium was arbitrary and a reaction to the possibility of storing so much of the depleted uranium.
"It was arbitrary and not based on science," he said.
Jessica Reimer, a policy analyst with HEAL Utah, said the state has no need to grant an exemption now when it is just months away from completing its assessment of the risks of burying depleted uranium.9 comments on this story
"It's been seven years. What is another four months?" she asked.
Williams said the only appropriate place for storing depleted uranium is a deep geologic repository, which the nation lacks.
But Orton urged the state to weigh the request carefully.
"We request this exemption be evaluated on a technical basis, not a political basis. We want the science to rule," he said.
The board opened up a public comment period for 30 days on Sept. 6 and is expected to make a decision several weeks from now.