What if we only let the Motion Picture Association watch the first five minutes of a film before assigning a rating? So no matter how gory, no matter how many swears, or how much nudity appears after that, a movie could qualify for a G rating.
That’s the gist of a new bill championed by nuclear waste giant EnergySolutions that is now sitting on Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk awaiting his signature.
At issue is a unique form of waste: concentrated depleted uranium.
It grows hotter over time. So hot that, eventually, it will surpass the limits on what is legally acceptable for disposal in Utah. Make no mistake, this waste is vastly different than the waste currently allowed at the facility. Its radioactive decay products will eventually exceed Utah’s Class C waste limits.
Has EnergySolutions taken this kind of waste in the past? Yes. But that amount (49,000 tons) pales in comparison to the estimated 800,000 tons it would like to take. And that waste was allowed into Utah because, at the time, state officials only assessed its safety over 500 years — a tiny snapshot of the hazard this waste will pose as it decays.
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has observed: “Whereas the activity in a commercial LLW facility decreases to a few percent of the initial value over a few hundred years, the activity in a facility for depleted uranium would be expected to remain relatively constant initially, but begin increasing at around 1,000 years.”
Thankfully, Utah’s Radiation Control Board remedied this problem in 2010, requiring EnergySolutions to consider public health and safety over a more appropriate timeframe.
That safety assessment is now ongoing. But in the meantime, EnergySolutions wants to ensure that state regulators can’t classify concentrated depleted uranium based on what we know it will become through the physics of radioactive decay — only what it is today.
This is the wrong approach for Utah. We should never pave the way for more dangerous waste by tying the hands of the state scientists who are tasked with protecting our state’s health and environment. Because once Utah opens the door to this nuclear waste, we will never be able to get rid of it. Just look at what has happened in the past.
A 2012 legislative audit found clear examples of banned waste that had been buried at EnergySolutions. But that waste was allowed to remain.
From the audit: “EnergySolutions made the case to the DRC that it was more hazardous to human health to dig up and send the waste back to the generators than to allow it to remain unmoved in the disposal cells.”6 comments on this story
In other words, EnergySolutions is happy to take on risks to workers and Utah’s environment to get the waste here. But once it’s buried and paid for, the risks to remove it are somehow simply too great.
Gov. Herbert stood up for 76 percent of Utahns who oppose depleted uranium disposal when he turned back trainloads of the stuff sent by the Department of Energy. At the time he said, “Good public policy requires good science, and I am concerned that DOE's decision to ship this waste to Utah now is based more on politics than on science.”
Let’s not let EnergySolutions use politics to now obfuscate that science.