My view: Depleted uranium should not be Utah’s problem to solve alone via Deseret News

By Ashley Soltysiak

Utah will soon face a huge decision — whether or not to allow the disposal of depleted uranium (DU), an extremely long-lived nuclear waste, at EnergySolutions’ facility in our West Desert. But here’s the question that state officials and all Utahns should be asking first: Why are the feds so eager to offload their 700,000-ton problem on our state?

This disposal problem originated decades ago. In 1982, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published rules governing nuclear waste disposal. Back then, the NRC didn’t anticipate the massive volumes of DU that another federal agency, the Department of Energy, would eventually need a place to stash.
DU is the best known of these “unique waste” streams. It is radically different from other Class A waste. Instead of gradually degrading and becoming much less dangerous within a few hundred years, DU actually increases in hazard for 2.1 million years. It will eventually exceed Class A hazard levels — which unequivocally violates our ban.

That’s why the NRC, in a recent hearing in Salt Lake City, has stated that properly classifying this waste is a priority, although not at the top of its to-do list.

This federal bureaucratic delay provides a small window of opportunity for EnergySolutions to capitalize and push Utah to accept DU — before it becomes officially classified out of their reach. They’ve got big-time motivation. According to a company spokesman, they are estimated to earn $15 to $20 million annually if awarded the federal contract.

The irony here is that a viable federal disposal site already exists. The Nevada test site has taken small quantities of DU in the past and is federally owned and operated. That begs the question: Why don’t the feds manage their own problem? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to internalize those disposal costs?

Another big policy question: If a state like Utah is forced to take DU, which is vastly different than the short-lived waste we typically accept, what implications will this have nationally?


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3 Responses to My view: Depleted uranium should not be Utah’s problem to solve alone via Deseret News

  1. Sherry Green says:

    Thank you for your post! I was wondering why you said it would be cheaper to internalize those disposal. It’s clear that there is more risk than benifit……

  2. norma field says:

    Thank you for your question. It should really go to the author of the article, Ashley Soltysiak. Apologies for not having posted this name. My guess is that the author’s argument is that it’s cheaper for the federal government to absorb the cost of disposal on federal disposal sites rather than pay a private corporation operating a site in Utah. Of course, quite apart from cost, the risks are there; what are the benefits? Jobs entailing risk for the workers and for neighboring residents?

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