Utah fights temporary storage facility

Published February 1, 2002

With the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility at least eight years from becoming operational, local energy companies are finding it increasingly difficult to store their accumulating spent nuclear fuel.

The Goshute Indians are proposing to alleviate the growing problem by leasing 820 acres of their reservation, roughly 70 miles from Salt Lake City, for the temporary storage of nuclear waste. However, the State of Utah is pursuing legal action to keep the Indians from accepting nuclear waste.

Utah has no nuclear power plants and has enacted laws banning storage of nuclear waste within its boundaries. However, the Goshute Indians have semi-sovereignty over their reservation and claim the state legislation does not apply to them.

“American Indians control their lands, so utilities can exploit that and try to avoid the democratic process,” asserted Utah Deputy Attorney General Larry Jensen. “The utilities go to tribes because they know the states are going to fight them. They only have to deal with the tribe.”

The Goshutes, however, feel the minimal safety concerns are worth the benefits they would accrue. The spent fuel would be stored in 175-ton steel and concrete canisters situated on thick concrete pads until a permanent national waste storage facility is built. In return for leasing the space for the temporary storage facility, the tribe would receive significant revenue to pay for new housing, education, and health care initiatives.

Private fuel storage on the tribal lands “is an excellent fuel management strategy until Yucca Mountain is developed,” said Rod McCullum, a senior project manager at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Whether the Goshute Indians will be allowed to make such a determination for themselves will be decided in the courts in the months to come.