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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

UT State Senator Hot Over Rad Waste

A bit of ancient history...a company named Envirocare of Utah became the first privately owned, low level radioactive waste disposal site after its owner bribed the head of the state licensing agency (Dept. Of Environmental Quality).  Eventually that owner sold the company for something like $500M, and today it is a publicly traded company called EnergySolutions.

More recently, it looks like some Utah state auditors concluded that the state regulators do not provide sufficient independent oversight.  In particular they were concerned the site could accept higher than Class A waste (the lowest classification, followed by B & C) or waste from foreign countries.

Let's dig in!

It's ridiculous to call for the firing of the head of the DEQ, Amanda Smith.  She is correct that the manner in which the DEQ regulates the waste is similar to the way it's done across the country for low level radioactive and for non-radioactive wastes.

But that doesn't contradict the auditors' findings.

Should additional, independent regulatory oversight be imposed?

They'll have to struggle with that question.

Most large generators of low level radioactive waste (like commercial nuclear power plants) are very careful to follow the rules because they want to avoid the liability of having the waste found to be disposed of improperly in the future.  That could lead to digging up lots of their waste to see if any of it is also out-of-spec.  And then the out-of-spec waste would have to be sent somewhere else.

Smaller waste generators are more likely to either make mistakes or intentionally hide illicit wastes.   They would likely just declare bankruptcy in the event of an expensive remediation.  But the volumes are small, so to the extent there are waste problems the health and environmental impacts are very low.

And this place is in the middle of nowhere.

Yet, considering the site's history and the feelings that most people have regarding coziness between the regulator and the regulated, whether in the waste arena or any other, the DEQ may succumb to the pressure to do more.  Time will tell.

Here's a site tour:

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