FROM THE ARCHIVE

Bush official opposes tribal nuclear dump

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TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2002

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham on Monday broke with longstanding hands-off policy on tribal decisions and said he opposed a nuclear dump on an Utah reservation.

At the National Governor's Association meeting in Idaho, the Bush official characterized the Skull Valley Goshute Tribe's multi-million dollar economic development venture as a "makeshift" proposal. He said the administration supports one repository for the nation's waste.

"There is no need for that project to go forward," he said.

The remarks, which came during a question and answer session, were Abraham's most public on the tiny tribe's controversial agreement to accept up to 44,000 tons of highly radioactive waste. Eight private utility companies hope to send their spent nuclear fuel to Utah as soon as they gain federal approval.

Abraham has no official say in that process, which is handled by an independent regulatory agency. But he has promised Utah's politicians, who oppose the site, that he would help scuttle the tribe's plans.

"My view all along has been that this ought to be a federal project," said Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) at the meeting.

How the Department of Energy plans to make good on its pledge is unclear. The Bureau of Indian Affairs already approved a lease between the tribe and Private Fuel Storage (PFS) and has taken no view on the site, other than to support the tribe's right to economic development.

The tribe and PFS aren't swayed by Abraham's position either. Since they are using private funds, they contend federal threats are pointless.

Abraham's objections yesterday were less centered on technical concerns about the Goshute deal than of political considerations for Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the Bush administration's endorsed repository. He called on the states "not to move in their own directions, but rather to work with us to finish the licensing process and move the waste to one site."

The statement reversed one he made in an opinion piece that seemed to accept that other locations were all but guaranteed. "Whether or not the Goshutes are successful, sooner or later others will open new sites, and this material will move," he wrote in The Washington Post on March 26.

The Goshute plan has emerged from several federal reviews and lawsuits unscathed. Final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could come by the end of the year, granting a 20-year license for the waste.

Yucca Mountain, on the other hand, won't be ready until 2010 at the earliest. The nation's nuclear stockpile grows by 2,000 tons a year, raising fears that the Goshute project could be extended.

Relevant Links:
Utah Office of High Level Nuclear Waste Opposition - http://www.eq.state.ut.us/HLW/Hlw_opp.htm
Private Fuel Storage Facility Application, Nuclear Regulatory Commission - http://www.nrc.gov/OPA/reports/pfs.htm
Private Fuel Storage - http://www.privatefuelstorage.com
The Skull Valley Goshutes - http://www.skullvalleygoshutes.org

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