In order to improve efficiency, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is planning to merge the Division of Radiation Control and the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste… and one group isn’t too happy it.
HEAL Utah, a Salt Lake City-based environmental advocacy group, issued a statement last week expressing concern over the possible change.
Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah, said the group is going to withhold judgment until a specific proposal is introduced. However, he noted a couple areas of concern. One of which is the impact a merger could have on the state’s impending depleted uranium decision.
The Division of Radiation Control is nearing the end of an investigation evaluating a technical review from EnergySolutions. The review argues that the company’s dump site in Clive, which sits 35 miles northwest of Tooele, is an appropriate place to dispose of up to 700,000 tons of depleted uranium. The Division is expected to issue a ruling in 2015.
Depleted uranium is what remains after natural uranium has been enriched for use in nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel. It is slightly radioactive, but is persistently so because of its long half-life of 4.5 billion years; several studies suggest the possibility of leukemogenic, genetic, reproductive, and neurological effects from chronic exposure to the element.
“The decision on whether to allow nuclear waste, which poses a hazard for literally thousands of generations of Utahns, is the most significant decision Utah regulators will make for many years,” says Pacenza. “We’re very worried that at the last minute, that decision would be yanked out of the hands of staff who have studied the issue for years and handed to someone who only has weeks to learn the details. It’s a deeply complex matter that raises a myriad of technical and policy issues.”
Pacenza also fears that the merger might do away with the Radiation Control Board, which guides development of Radiation Control policy and rules within the state of Utah. The board has significant experience in nuclear waste regulatory matters. “We have to make sure that in a haste to embrace ‘efficiency’ in government, we don’t throw away a wealth of knowledge,” Pacenza says. “With the depleted uranium decision looming in 2015, this may not be the best time to be asking regulators to quickly get up-to-speed on specialized nuclear waste matters.”
In an interview with KUER, DEQ Director Amanda Smith said that the plan will preserve staff expertise as well as institutional knowledge. “The goal of all of this discussion is to make the integrity of the program stronger, not reduce it.”