Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Utah - Tooele Landfill Already Accepting Depleted Uranium

By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune

Significant quantities of depleted uranium are already buried in Utah, well in advance of new federal regulations aimed at determining how much of the unusual metal can be disposed of safely in one place.

The Utah Radiation Control Board heard Tuesday that 49 tons of "DU," as it's often called, has been taken to EnergySolutions Inc.'s specialized landfill in Tooele County since the site opened in 1988.

Radiation Control Division Director Dane Finerfrock told board members about the DU volumes as part of his report on recent decisions by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Federal regulators reaffirmed their decision last month to keep DU's hazard rating as "Class A," the category used for the least-dangerous low-level radioactive waste and considered suitable for "small volumes" of DU, about 1 to 11 tons. The NRC also said it would begin to craft regulations for "large volumes" of DU that need disposal in a couple of years, as new uranium enrichment plants come online.

EnergySolutions' Utah site and one in Texas are the only disposal facilities in line for an estimated 1 million tons of depleted uranium, Finerfrock told the board. Although the company has studied the technicalities of depleted uranium as part of its state license, another review will be required by the state if EnergySolutions asks to take large quantities, he added.

"All of this is in the formative stage," Finerfrock said, "and we'll have to see where it goes."

Board members discussed one reason regulating depleted uranium is so tough: Its radioactive decay products actually become more hazardous over time, peaking after 1 million years, according to the NRC. In effect, regulators are faced with determining a safe exposure far into the future.

James O'Neal, a Provo resident, encouraged the board to remain active in the NRC's future decisions on depleted uranium.

"As far as the default location for this stuff," he said, "it's right here."

The environmental group, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, also has asked to make a presentation about depleted uranium at the panel's May 12 meeting.

EnergySolutions spokeswoman Jill Sigal said this week that the company has been accepting depleted uranium safely for years and complies with regulations.

Meanwhile, the company has accepted 5,408, 55-gallon drums of depleted uranium oxide since last October, according to a cleanup consortium called Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. The company also has taken depleted uranium cleanup waste from a Massachusetts factory that made uranium-tipped bullets for the Army for nearly 30 years.

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