Utahns debate proposal to dispose of depleted uranium in Tooele County

Posted at 9:54 PM, May 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-06 23:54:45-04

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah -- Just 80 miles from Salt Lake City is a spot that could soon be home to thousands of tons of radioactive waste.

A proposal by EnergySolutions calls for burying depleted uranium at its Clive site in Tooele County, but after a safety evaluation of the plan revealed concerns from state officials, many in the public are not sure they want it at all.

"I worry about folks who might inhabit that area in the future, and not know that this waste is stored there,” said Matt McCarty, who lives in Tooele County.

He was one of dozen who attended an information session hosted by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The agency’s evaluation, released in April, identified eight unresolved issues with the plan--which prompted EnergySolutions to then stall its application for approval.

"It seems like the risk is fairly minimal, but if there is any risk at all why take that chance and why make Utah a dumping ground?" said Julia McCall, who drove to Tooele for the meeting.

Depleted uranium is a byproduct of nuclear weapons and reactors that is currently considered to be a low radioactive waste, dubbed “Class A.” However, over time, it gets hotter and hotter, making it more dangerous. Officials with the DEQ highlighted this concern in its report, questioning how it may react over a period of thousands of years, referred to as “deep time.”

"We are confident that the way that we are supposed to dispose of this material will never be an issue to the environment or people of Utah,” said Mark Walker, who is a spokesman for EnergySolutions.

According to DEQ, they would need confirmation from the federal government that depleted uranium would maintain its current classification of ‘A,’ otherwise it would not be allowed in Utah.

“We don't want to bury anything here if there could be a question of is this really class A,” said Helge Gabert, project manager for DEQ.

EnergySolutions concedes the depleted uranium would warm over thousands of years, but they contend it would eventually revert back to a class A level over time.

“It will dip back down below those B and C levels and turn into lead,” Walker said. “So, at the end of the day 100,000, a half million years from now, it's class A material."

The next information session is scheduled for May 7 at DEQ’s boardroom, located at 195 North 1950 West in Salt Lake City. It is set for 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.