Thursday, April 27, 2006

Are You Ready For a Nuclear Dump Next Door?

Utah Policy Daily put out a call to Utah bloggers to create what they termed a “blogswarm” to coincide with “No Way Day” on April 28 in opposition to making Utah the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground. The idea is to have as many bloggers as possible write about Private Fuel Storage’s (PFS) plan to store 44,000 tons of nuclear waste on the Goshute Reservation just 50 miles from Salt Lake City, which is populated more densely than New York.

Quite honestly, I had mixed emotions about being asked to participate. I usually write about what I want to write about when I want to write about it. Amateur writers can do that kind of thing. There are no deadlines or imposed topics. (Of course, there’s no money for most of us either.) I usually just put material out for readers to chew on. I don’t often call for action. So part of me feels like I’m being manipulated. On the other hand, this seems like a very worthwhile effort.

To the average Utahn the idea of transporting large amounts of nuclear waste across the country to store it in a concentrated fashion close to our state’s largest population center seems like the most absurd idea anyone could imagine. It’s more than simply a not-in-my-backyard attitude. The average American outside of Utah, on the other hand, thinks, “Utah—where’s that? Isn’t it one of those big squarish states out west somewhere? Better there than here.”

Goshutes and PFS make a libertarian appeal, asking why they shouldn’t be allowed to do what they want to do with their own property. Besides, the Goshutes desperately need the jobs, they say. The fact of the matter is that while private property is an essential principle in our country, we all have to be good neighbors.

A couple of years ago a handful of very vocal libertarian-minded individuals in my community gathered enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would have repealed zoning laws and property use regulations in our city. They argued that zoning was actually unconstitutional and has often been used abusively. They argued that disputes should be resolved between neighbors and argued in the courts if necessary.

This plan sounded good to some people on paper, but when they actually thought about what would happen, the excitement dissipated. Most of the people in my city are good neighbors. But a few that are otherwise. 72% of the voters ultimately didn’t like the idea of anybody being able to put anything on any piece of property. What if your neighbor decided to turn his lot into a landfill?

Well, that’s precisely what the Goshutes and PFS are proposing to do. Only it would be a nuclear landfill. There goes the neighborhood — maybe quite literally! Since this waste would be stored in large metal casks above ground, can you imagine what kind of sweet target that would make for aspiring Osama wannabes?

Currently the waste is stored at disparate locations close to where the waste was created. Some of these are near population centers. But the concentration at each site is relatively low. The risk of keeping the waste in its current locations is lower than transporting it across the nation on trucks or trains to store it all together in one big dump. But the citizens and politicians near those locations simply want it out of their areas, and there’s a lot more of them than there are people and politicians in Utah, so they carry a lot more clout.

Utah’s politicians and bureaucrats have done everything possible to stop this storage facility, but they have repeatedly met with disappointment. The Goshutes and PFS anticipate only one final hurdle before their dream of a nuclear wasteland can be fulfilled. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must grant approval for PFS to build a transfer facility adjacent to I-80 in Tooele.

The BLM is currently accepting public comment on the issue through May 8. All Utah citizens are invited to contact the BLM with their opinions on the approval of the transfer facility. You can let the BLM know how you feel about the issue by writing to them using one of the following methods:

Contact: Pam Schuller
E-mail address:
Fax number: (801) 977-4397

Snail mail:
Bureau of Land Management
Salt Lake Field Office
2370 South 2300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84119

If you can’t think of what to write, you can refer to this sample letter put together by Utah Policy Daily. Let’s not have another downwinders situation.

Keryn of Hot Blava has a somewhat different view of the matter here as she grew up in Nevada and was originally opposed to Yucca Mountain. She doesn’t take issue with transporting or permanently storing the waste, but has significant problems with the likelihood of Skull Valley ending up becoming a permanent storage site. The above ground storage would be vastly different than the plans for Yucca Mountain.

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