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WINTER Wear: An avocet wades in the Bear River to look for a tasty snack. The bird's black-and-white winter plumage heralds the onset of cold weather. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 11, 2005

On journalists during wartime (for Veterans Day):

"[I]n the news media that covered the war both overseas and domestically, journalists also were willing to cooperate and do their
part. The public did not see journalists (and journalists did not see themselves) as being against the team. Journalists were part of the team. Some, such as roving correspondent Ernie Pyle, repeatedly visited combat zones even though they did not have to do so, and they paid with their lives."

--Michael S. Sweeney, press historian, 2001 (from "Secrets of Victory," about censorship during WWII)


Utahns are shockingly ignorant of the toxic waste poised to invade

By Gentri Lawrence

October 19, 2005 | We want toxic, lethal waste in Utah forever. That's right, we are just asking for 40,000 tons of high level nuclear waste to be dumped in our west desert.

What, you haven't heard anything about this? A normal response, no one pays any attention and hey, there are more important things to pay attention to like where the next Wal-Mart will go. Who cares about the storage of the entire nation's high level waste in our backyard, when obviously the Wal-Mart is much more important.

The facility will be located in Skull Valley, 50 miles from Salt Lake City and half of Utah's population. The impoverished Skull Valley Goshute tribe made an agreement 10 years ago with Private Fuel Storage to trade land for an undisclosed sum of money, which based on the $3.1 billion budget could be a large sum. The Skull Valley Goshutes, numbering 150 people, retain their sovereignty, which allows them to make agreements for land use even though it will impact 2 million Utah citizens with no say on the project.

Most high level waste is created in nuclear power plants. Uranium pellets are made into rods and heated in reactors to produce energy. Rods are removed with 97 percent of energy capacity still in the rod and stored in large pools to cool them while they emit heat through decomposition. The waste is lethal for 10,000 years, longer than known history. Utah does not have any nuclear power plants or currently hold any high level waste. Why should we be expected to store something that we don't even produce? And yet we are set to become the dump for the nation's waste, 40,000 tons of it and possibly more, from over 103 power plants.

Utah is already home to more than five military installations, and also Envirocare which disposes of low level waste, the Deseret Chemical Depot storing and destroying chemical and biological weapons. Soon a shipment of toxic dirt will arrive from Japan that the federal government asked to pay for and then will dump here in Utah. In fact, 86 percent of our land is federally owned. It is apparent that Utah is not doing its part to support the country, we haven't been forced to take on too much and so it makes sense to add more, why not?

The facility is supposed to temporarily store waste for 40 years and then transfer it to a permanent facility. The only problem is that there is no permanent facility and based on past history it's possible that there won't be one in 40 years either. The government took responsibility to create a permanent storage system in 1982; 23 years later we are still without a facility or a solution. Yucca Mountain was designated the permanent site and millions of dollars later the facility is not even close to accepting waste and might never open. No other storage options have been explored for the past 18 years. The waste temporarily stored in Utah could easily become permanent storage.

Waste will be transported thousands of miles, mostly from the east coast, by rail and trucks to the facility. Housed in canisters 10 feet tall, the waste will then be placed on cement pads. The casks are not bolted down and are sitting in the open air with no substantial security barrier if a canister leaked. All it would take is one accident and half of Utah's population is contaminated, not to mention all the communities it passes on route to the facility. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said, "Thousands of tons of deadly nuclear material will pass homes, schools, businesses and churches in communities across the country, and there is simply no way to safely do this."

In Europe they have been recycling the waste for decades. The amount of waste is lower and easier to store. Why aren't we doing this instead of just trying to store the waste? The Utah Delegation is supportive of recycling but has failed so far to get greater support. Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) annually flies hundreds of flights over the proposed site. Skull Valley is the gateway to a whole corridor which HAFB uses to fly F-16s. Studies found that if an F-16 crashed it would have a "catastrophic" effect on the canisters. With waste in direct path it is likely that the flight plans will have to be changed causing flight to become more expensive, making HAFB vulnerable to closure. HAFB is a leading employer and an essential element to Utah's economy.

On Sept. 8, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission vetoed Utah's latest effort to stop the waste from entering. After a long fight, the debated facility can be licensed and ready to open in 2008. Due to the sovereign status of the Goshutes the facility has no legal responsibility to compensate the state in any way unless there is a separate agreement, which has not happened. So the state will pay for extra staff and training in case an emergency occurs, all on the taxpayers' dime.

Last April, President Bush said, "A secure energy future for America must include more nuclear power." The only problem is that we are having difficulty deciding what to do with the waste that we currently have. It makes good sense to add more plants and produce more waste? Right. It sounds like the problems are only going to get worse until the government takes responsibility and builds and approves a permanent storage facility.

Dangerous waste is coming to our home and it is surprising how little we have done to fight it, it is even more shocking how many people don't know about it. Haven't we done our part for the good of the nation? Large tracts of land are filled with undesirable industries that were forced upon the state. We need to stand up and fight this facility. This is the future of our state and our families, and we need to take action or else Utah will become known as America's toxic waste dump.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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