Utah governor escalates nuclear waste fight

SALT LAKE CITY - Gov. Mike Leavitt created a special state office Thursday to try to block a proposal to bring 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to an Indian reservation in the Utah desert southwest of Salt Lake City.

''I will deploy every tool I can,'' Leavitt said. ''We don't produce this waste. We shouldn't store it.''

Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of eight electric utilities, is seeking federal approval to store spent nuclear fuel rods in aboveground containers at the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation, 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Leavitt has adamantly opposed the plan. On Thursday, he used an executive order and $50,000 in emergency funds to create the Office of High Level Nuclear Waste Opposition. Leavitt will ask the Legislature for $1 million per year to pay at least five attorneys to combat the storage plan in court.

''We are committed to fighting it legislatively, in the courts, on the environmental front and on the political front,'' Leavitt said. He said the new office would assure Utah had the ''very best defense.''

While details of the lease between the Skull Valley Goshutes and PFS have not been released, the tribe is expected to make a hefty profit.

Leavitt said he is considering new taxes, regulations and possibly even criminal law to regulate the transportation and storage of nuclear waste under state law.

A PFS spokeswoman did not immediately return messages Thursday.

A citizens' group opposed to the storage plan outlined risks on Thurssday.

Transporting nuclear waste across the country would put people living along the route at risk of radiation exposure, and emergency workers may be ill-prepared to handle a wreck, the group said. Opponents also worry the Skull Valley site could become a permanent storage site if a proposed site in Yucca Mountain, Nev., is blocked by that state's political leaders.

There are also risks that storage casks could fail, water and air could be contaminated, property values could drop and cruise missiles or jets tested in the area could crash into the site, the group argued.

However, in an October report, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission declared the site safe and the casks sturdy. The military said the chances a jet would crash into the casks are extremely low. Leavitt contends the NRC is biased because it needs to find a storage site.


On the Net:

Private Fuel Storage, LLC: http://www.privatefuelstorage.com

The Skull Valley Goshutes: http://www.skullvalleygoshutes.org

Utah Legislature: http://www.le.state.ut.us


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