SALT LAKE CITY — The House voted without discussion 50-20 to approve changes made in a radioactive waste bill dealing with the potential storage of depleted uranium in Utah.
HB220 by Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature, although critics are asking him to veto the measure. That appears unlikely, given a statement issued by his office.
“As with all legislation, we will scrutinize the bill before signing, but the governor believes that his major concerns have been addressed," said Paul Edwards, Herbert's deputy chief of staff.
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, or HEAL Utah, held a protest at the state Capitol Friday, asserting that the bill paves the way for the state to accept "hotter" material beyond low-level radioactive waste, or waste in the class A category.
Jessica Reimer, HEAL Utah policy associate, said the law would classify depleted uranium as it comes in as class A waste, but over time it increases in radioactivity. She said the law also allows blending, which could allow class B and C waste, and changes waste classification to dose limits, which is more subjective.
"Allowing depleted uranium to be stored at EnergySolution’s Clive facility means that the state is creating a radioactive site forever," Reimer said.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, said that assertion is not true.
"It does not approve depleted uranium to be disposed of in Utah," Sandall told his colleagues this week. "Finally, it does not open the doors to class B and C waste."
EnergySolutions is seeking to dispose of the nation's stockpile of depleted uranium, a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, and a material so dense it is used by the military for coating tanks and as a shield in radiation therapy.
Depleted uranium, however, is a unique waste stream because as it decays it grows hotter over time — a characteristic critics say makes it unsuitable for disposal at EnergySolutions' Clive facility in Tooele County.
Steven Nelson, geology professor at Brigham Young University, said the half-life of depleted uranium will not lose radioactivity in a few centuries, the half-life is 4.5 billion years. He said eventually it will get out and be dispersed into the environment.
"Depleted uranium requires deep burial," Nelson said.
Nelson has also studied Lake Bonneville, and said uranium is quite soluble in alkaline water, which would be a problem if the lake system rises.
"I wonder, if the legislators that passed this bill really understood depleted uranium, how they could in good conscience vote in favor of it," Nelson said.
Sandall, however, urged his colleagues to base their vote on the "science" not emotion.
EnergySolutions has been going through an extensive review process with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to determine site suitability for the material that includes modeling how the disposal site would perform in deep geologic time.
At the protest, Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, questioned the timing of the bill with the incomplete review process. She said decisions on depleted uranium should be made after the outcome of the assessment.
"They know that depleted uranium will not remain class A waste and will eventually exceed class C standards. They know that bringing it here will violate our current state laws, so instead they’re seeking to change those state laws at the eleventh hour and that’s fundamentally wrong," Soltysiak said.27 comments on this story
Sandall said the bill does not eliminate the requirement for review and it still requires the division director to approve the disposal.
Changes in the bill also require the U.S. Department of Energy to provide stewardship of the site in perpetuity.
Reimer said the language of the bill has improved as it progressed through the Legislature, but HEAL Utah still has a number of issues with the bill. She called it another "small chip away" at the state's nuclear waste policies.
After the rally, attendees delivered more than 1,000 postcards from citizens asking Herbert to veto the bill.
Contributing: Emily Ashcraft