SALT LAKE CITY — Nuclear waste that’s been buried in Utah’s west desert for several years likely includes some material that’s not allowed under state law, according to an environmental group’s report released Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Energy has been disposing of depleted uranium from a nuclear weapons complex near Aiken, S.C., since 2003 at EnergySolutions Inc.’s facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. It also has disposed of some material at the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles north of Las Vegas.
The report commissioned by Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah says that out of the original 33,000 drums from the Savannah River Site, as many as 5,600 could include material that violates state standards for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.
That’s because the material includes radionuclide technetium-99, a man-made product that results from the fissioning of nuclear fuel in a reactor to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. State law only allows for certain levels of the material to be disposed of in Utah.
More than 10,000 drums of depleted uranium from the South Carolina facility has already been disposed of in Utah, accoring to the DOE. Dane Finerfrock, director of the Utah Division of Radiation Control, said he was unaware so much depleted uranium was already in his state.
He said the state trusts EnergySolutions and those it contracts with to ensure any material it disposes in Utah complies with state law.
“We do not routinely sample shipments as they come in the gate,” he said.
Department of Energy spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said the DOE is confident all of the depleted uranium is allowed under state law.
HEAL Utah Executive Director Vanessa Pierce said it’s impossible to determine how many of the disposed drums may include depleted uranium that never should have been imported, but the DOE and the state can act to prevent additional waste from being disposed.
“First we need to deal with the problem immediately at our doorstep, then we need to deal with the skeletons in the backyard,” Pierce said. “It is inexcusable for regulators at all levels to have just ignored the issue of whether it’s safe to dispose of this type of material.”
More than 5,000 drums from the Savannah River Site are in Utah awaiting disposal, and the DOE has planned on disposing nearly 10,000 more drums, too.
EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said he had not read HEAL Utah’s report yet and could not comment.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he struck an oral agreement last week with the Energy Department to keep the other 10,000 drums out of the state, but his spokeswoman said Wednesday the state hasn’t yet submitted a written version for the DOE to approve.
After HEAL Utah provided its report to Herbert, state officials began sampling some of the waste still awaiting disposal at the facility to see if it meets state standards. The samples will be analyzed at a lab in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Test results aren’t expected for several weeks.
On the Net:
HEAL Utah’s report: http://healutah.org/files/Makhijani2010.pdf
Updated 3:40 p.m.
SALT LAKE CITY -- A report commissioned by an environmental group says several thousand tons of depleted uranium from a former nuclear weapons complex in South Carolina is likely unfit for disposal in Utah.
That includes some low-level radioactive waste that may already be buried in the state.
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah released the report Wednesday.
The report is based on an analysis of waste samples taken by the U.S. Department of Energy, which wants to dispose some of the waste from the Savannah River Site in the west Utah desert.
State officials have started inspecting some of the waste awaiting disposal at EnergySolutions Inc.'s facility.