Alarms raised over nuclear waste shipments

Organizations throughout Utah and the southwest are calling on Utah Governor Gary Herbert to stand with the governors of Nevada and New Mexico in opposing the recent actions by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the national nuclear waste policies that could lead to new storage facilities for radioactive waste.

The letter sent to Governor Herbert by these organizations was prompted by the recent news that the DOE both shipped mischaracterized radioactive waste to the Nevada National Security Site and, in a separate action, shipped weapons-grade plutonium to the same site despite Nevada’s protest.

“Unsuspecting communities along Utah’s highways and railroads were almost certainly at risk with all of these illegal shipments,” Ashley Soltysiak, Director of the Utah Sierra Club said. “It is unconscionable that first responders and the public were not alerted or prepared to handle these imminent threats to their safety. We demand greater transparency from the Department of Energy and Governor Herbert, as all Utahns continue to grapple with our state’s nuclear legacy.”

At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation (HR 2699) to restart the process for disposal of spent nuclear fuel rods at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering licensing a consolidated interim storage facility for these rods in southeastern New Mexico. 

“For scientific, geologic, and technical reasons over the suitability of the site, we have long advocated for termination of the Yucca Mountain Project,” long-time activist Steve Erickson said. “Utah has already fought against temporary parking lots of high-level radioactive waste, so we shouldn’t be staying silent on them now,” he added, referring to the abandoned Private Fuel Storage facility in Tooele County.

“Utah has a complicated history with nuclear weapons testing, which exposed our citizens to dangerous radioactivity without their knowledge,” said Dr. Scott Williams, Executive Director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah). “The last thing Utahns need is another risk to our safety due to a lack of transparency from the federal government. Our state leaders should recognize this and ensure that no Utahn is unnecessarily exposed to nuclear waste of any kind.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak responded to the DOE’s actions with outrage and reiterated his enduring opposition to Yucca Mountain, while New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham continues to strongly oppose consolidated interim storage.

In the letter submitted to Governor Herbert, groups urged him to stand publicly with the Governors of Nevada and New Mexico by (1) objecting to the use of Utah roads and rails to ship mischaracterized radioactive wastes that are not legal to store or dispose of at facilities in Nevada or elsewhere, and (2) opposing consolidated interim storage of spent nuclear fuel in Utah and in any State that objects to such a facility. Additionally, they requested the Governor to inform the public whether Utah was aware of or notified by the DOE of the shipments and to explain what procedures and protocols are in place for notification of radioactive and hazardous waste shipments to first responders and local governments.

The letter was signed by the Citizens Education Project, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah), Utah Sierra Club, Uranium Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Southwest Research and Information Center, Great Salt Lake Audubon, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force.