Wasatch Environmental Update for December 6, 2015
By John Worlock, Member of Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons
“Depleted Uranium in the West Desert”
Occasionally we turn our attention from the Wasatch Mountains on our eastern flank and, guided by our sister organization Heal Utah, take a look at the spacious desert to the west. Out there, some seventy miles west of the Salt Lake Valley, at a place known as Clive, Utah, is the multi-acre site of EnergySolutions, the corporation licensed to receive, and store by shallow burial, much of the nation’s so-called low-level radioactive waste.
Until recently, low-level has been taken to mean this: mildly radioactive and with the property that the radioactivity will fade away naturally with the passage of time. Ok, we can bury that stuff in the west desert and in a few generations, it will be harmless.
But now, EnergySolutions wants answer the nation’s need for so-called disposal of a vast inventory of depleted uranium, the waste material rejected when the tiny concentration of the useful uranium isotope U235 was separated for use in bombs and reactors.
Depleted Uranium, mostly the isotope U238, despite its family connection with bombs and reactors, is so weakly reactive that you could store a few kilograms in the cellar, and suffer no consequences. Not this year, not even this century. So…. what’s the controversy?
The problem is absolutely clear and well understood. Each nucleus of Uranium 238 will inorexibly go through a series of radioactive transformations, stretching through Radon, until it reaches its most lethal levels of radioactivity after about a million years.
A million years! That’s almost geologic time, during which the West Desert might have become once again a flood plain or even, perhaps, have risen above the plain as the newest mountain range, sculpted by glaciers.
Heal Utah is right to call attention to this threat to our distant descendants, and to ask our local authorities to be thoughtful. It’s a lot to ask since the federal authorities who created the problem, have given little or no guidance, having already falsely classified depleted Uranium as low-level waste. EnergySolutions is fighting the state regulators’ plan for protection beyond the weak federal limit.
Go to the website HEAL Utah dot org and study this thorny problem, preparing your response to EnergySolutions’ wish to operate within the weak federal regulations.