SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions was denied an exemption to bury thousands of tons of depleted uranium munitions at its site in Clive, Tooele County, after the Utah Solid Waste and Radiation Control Board panned the proposal.
The unanimous vote Thursday came after hours of presentations by expert consultants, Utah Department of Environmental Quality staff, EnergySolutions' regulatory chief, advocacy organizations and staff.
With the exception of the EnergySolutions employee, all commentators said the idea of storing depleted uranium metal munitions in Tooele County is a bad one.
"What's the rush? Why hurry?" questioned Tooele County resident Matt McCurdy. "It is in the public's best interest to see through a very detailed risk assessment on this."
EnergySolutions wanted regulatory approval to avoid a lengthy performance assessment so it could competitively bid on a U.S. Department of Defense contract for the munitions disposal.
The 5,000 cubic yards of the 30 mm bullets are at Tooele Army Depot and a military installation in Indiana.
Don Verbica, with the radiation control division, said he didn't believe previous assessments done at the Clive facility addressed the risks posed by depleted uranium metal.
"They have to demonstrate that (disposal of the material) will not result in an undue hazard to public health, safety and the environment," Verbica said.
Verbica added that depleted uranium metal is chemically unstable, relatively mobile and pyrophoric, or able to ignite spontaneously.
The staff's presentation showed a corroded depleted uranium munition after three years to underscore what they assert is the specific unsafe nature of the radioactive material.
Verbica added that it was both the recommendation of the division director, Scott Anderson, and the opinion of the agency's expert consultants that too many signficant questions remain unanswered, and therefore EnergySolutions' request should be denied.
Dan Shrum, EnergySolutions' vice president of environmental compliance and permitting, said the company has already safely stored 49,000 tons of depleted uranium without serious incident.
The company had argued it should be exempt from a law requiring a performance assessment be completed before it can accept depleted uranium in excess of one ton.
On Thursday, Shrum also asserted that previous performance assessments done over the years addressed the regulatory requirements for safely storing this kind of depleted uranium.
The board, however, disagreed.2 comments on this story
Representatives from HEAL Utah and the Sierra Club attended the Thursday meeting, noting afterward that board members made the right decision.
“Allowing this exemption would have created a dangerous precedent that business interests can sidestep Utah’s public health policies,” said Dr. Scott Williams, executive director of HEAL Utah. “We applaud both the board on their decision and the Utahns who spoke out on this issue to ensure that public safety prevails over private interests of multimillion-dollar companies.”