HB220: Bill would bring toxic waste into Utah, improve acceptance assessments

In this May 6, 2015 photo, a caution sign hangs on a fence in front of a building that houses depleted uranium at the EnergySolutions facility in Clive, Utah. A new bill being discussed during the Utah Legislative Session would change how depleted uranium waste is accepted into the state. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

An amended bill that would change the way depleted uranium waste is accepted in Utah is drawing both support and opposition from legislators.

HB220 sponsor Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, said the bill aims to provide clarity in response to a policy question from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality — a department that has spent the last seven years searching for energy solutions to dispose of depleted uranium waste.

If the Legislature passes the bill, the depleted uranium waste would enter the state by rail or truck from either Kentucky or Ohio.

“The main policy question is, ‘When do we classify waste?’” Albrecht said. “The answer this bill provides is that waste is classified at the time of acceptance. The rest of the bill is related to the process of waste classification and proposes to move forward using a science-based, site-specific waste acceptance model.”

A site-specific performance assessment estimates the probabilities of what would happen to the disposed waste now and in the future, Albrecht said.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he supported the addition of a second substitute to the original bill. The substitute would include the authorities in the process to a greater extent, and more thoroughly base processes on current science to determine whether it is appropriate to bring waste into the state.

King emphasized the toxicity of depleted uranium — toxicity that increases with time, unlike other forms of waste with less longevity.

“That’s a problem simply because we don’t know what the future is going to hold for Utah. We don’t know whether we’re going to be able to come up with something that neutralizes the radioactivity of these waste products as they become more radioactive over time,” King said. “But we’re not talking about a small degree to which the radioactivity of this product increases, it increases at the 14 times level of radioactivity at its peak from the time it’s first stored.”

Without the substitute, the bill would not require performance assessments of individual waste shipments and their effects.

“I don’t particularly care for this bill,” King said. “This isn’t an amendment that I think is advisable in a vacuum, but I think this makes a bad bill less bad if we pass this amendment.”

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, disagreed with those supporting the bill and said she hoped the Legislature was taking the bill seriously.

“What we could be leaving for many generations off in the future could be very, very dangerous,” Arent said. “There’s some danger in transporting this. What happens when the truck falls over or the rail line crashes?”

Arent said she does not want Utah to become known as the nation’s “dumping ground for this very toxic material” and said she worries about the health of residents living near the waste.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, a bill supporter, pointed out the existence of “several safety valves” and “checks and balances” in place in the bill to prevent disasters.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, said he also supports the bill.

“The technology that’s in place today is vastly different than it was 50 years ago, 70 years ago,” Lyman said. “And I know we have to plan with the technology that we have available to us now.”

Lyman said that nuclear energy is clean energy, and that it is considered clean by many environmental groups. He called it “something that has tremendous potential benefits to society.” He said it makes him proud of Utah.

“I’m very much in favor of this,” he said. “It represents real jobs for real people who have mortgages and mouths to feed, and we need more of that, not at the expense of the environment, but in harmony with it.”

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