Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Decision tabled on uranium disposal [Utah]

Members of the state's Radiation Control Board have tabled for now any decision to impose a moratorium on the storage of depleted uranium at EnergySolutions' Clive facility.

The 6-4 decision to further delay giving a definitive answer on the issue came after more than three hours of presentations on the ability — or inability — to safely dispose of the Class A radioactive material at the Tooele County site.

Instead, the majority of board members want to wait until a Sept. 22 meeting with representatives from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who will be in town that week for two days of public hearings.

Those hearings are designed to solicit input on, among other things, what type of site-specific restrictions could be incorporated into a new rule governing the storage of massive quantities of depleted uranium.

Such storage has largely been a non-issue over the years because no facilities have been engaged in the uranium-enrichment process for decades.

With the country's attention turned toward nuclear power as alternative to reliance on fossil fuels, two applications for large-scale facilities are pending before the commission.

That kick-started an investigation into what possible disposal restrictions could be put in place because depleted uranium has evolving properties that make it "hotter" over time.

EnergySolutions has its eye on a possible contract to dispose of depleted uranium from South Carolina's Savannah River nuclear processing center.

Now defunct, the reactors were built during the 1950s to refine materials for use in nuclear weapons.

Such a possibility galvanized the environmental watchdog group HEAL Utah to request the moratorium and kicked into motion the fact-finding mission embraced by the board the past couple of months.

Under review is if the board has the authority to enact such a moratorium, if such a move is premature given the commission's own review of the issue or if enough urgency exists to propel action now.

It was clear from both sides — among the disagreeing board members and presenters — that the issue is far from being resolved and that September's meeting with commission representatives doesn't necessarily guarantee a solution.,5143,705316910,00.html

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