Environmentalists Concerned Merger May Open Door for Uranium Dumping in West Desert

utah_department_of_environmental_qualityIn 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.”

2 Replies to “Environmentalists Concerned Merger May Open Door for Uranium Dumping in West Desert

  1. As a note to better understand the depleted uranium issue. There is a performance assesment that has been performed by industry experts to evaluate whether or not the energysolutions facility is suitable for the disposing of depleted uranium. Third party experts are conducting the evaluation which has taken nearly a year. The results of that study will be made known in 2015. What HEAL Utah is not disclosing is that the process does not involve the radiation control board, of which its’s members are not experts in this field. Science will determine the decision on depleted uranium not public opinion, individuals and groups opposed to responsibly managing this material. If you would like to better understand the role energysolutions plays in the management of radioactive material please let me know. A clear understanding of the process will provide you with more accurate information in your reporting.

  2. I agree that this is not the time to merge these two entities. The decision of whether Utah becomes a repository for nuclear is far too important to make this change before the impending decision. I’m not sure that I see an impelling reason, other than economics, to combine the Department of Environmental Quality and the Division of Radiation Control and the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste. I think the public deserves far more information before any such merger is considered. On the surface there appears to be many conflicts of interest.

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