.News Update 5/8/09

States With Own Dumps Ship Nuclear Waste to Utah

May 8, 2009

A commercial nuclear waste dump located outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, has been receiving low-level waste from Connecticut, New Jersey, and South Carolina, despite the fact that all three of those states are part of an Atlantic Compact with its own dump site located near Barnwell, South Carolina. It is cheaper for the states to ship their waste cross-country to Utah due to the higher dumping rates at the South Carolina disposal site.

Nuclear power plants, universities, research labs, and hospitals generate low-level waste everyday. In 1985, Congress passed the Low-level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act that required states to take responsibility for the disposal of their low-level radioactive waste. The Act encouraged states to enter into agreements, called compacts, to build and operate regional disposal facilities.

EnergySolutions, Inc. owns the Utah dump. But Utah does not ship its waste to the site because it is part of the Northwest Compact. Utah ships its low-level waste to a Richland, Washington site.

With the influx of waste, the EnergySolutions dump is at 46% of its capacity. Since 2000 it has received millions of cubic feet of waste from the Atlantic Compact states, which amounts to more than 50 times what the Eastern states have shipped to the South Carolina site. The Atlantic Compact states contribute over 13% of the waste volume at the Utah dump.

Not only is EnergySolutions dump filling up faster than it was intended to, but the risks of shipping toxic waste across the country concern many people. U.S. Congressman Jim Matheson of Utah is especially worried about the "inherent transportation dangers to the public and to the environment from radioactive waste shipments through our state," and has accordingly presented Congress with a bill banning the importation of foreign radioactive waste.

The federal government has been encouraging states to build their own waste dumps for a while, but the EnergySolutions facility is the only new dump to have been built in the past 30 years. Vanessa Pierce, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said, "It's clear that the low-level waste system in this country is broken when there are states with their own dump sites sending tons of radioactive garbage across the country for disposal in Utah. The compact system, which was supposed to protect states from becoming the country's dumping ground, has been totally derailed." Indeed, the shipment of waste across the country blatantly ignores the government's plan for regional disposal.

Diane D'Arrigo, radioactive waste project director for the Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service pointed out the inherent dangers in allowing states to dump outside the parameters of their compacts. She said, "At any point there could be ... routine exposure along the way, there could be accidents, fires or just other kinds of crashes. The more nuclear shipping we have, the more accidents we're going to have."

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