SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he wants federal regulators to review how hazardous a type nuclear waste is before it's buried in Utah's western desert.
Speaking at his monthly televised news conference on KUED-TV, Herbert said if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reclassifies depleted uranium, which is currently considered low-level waste, then he doesn't want it buried in Utah.
Depleted uranium is a type of nuclear waste that grows more radioactive over a million years.
The NRC in 2009 voted to continue classifying it as Class A, the least hazardous kind of radioactive waste. But environmental groups and others speculate the agency could revisit that decision sometime over the next decade.
If depleted uranium is reclassified as B or C waste, it would be illegal under Utah law.
"I want that reviewed because I have a hunch that it's hotter than Class A waste and should be reclassified as something else," Herbert said Thursday.
Herbert said he's not concerned about the capability of storing depleted uranium, noting that the U.S. has a way to store spent nuclear fuel rods underground.
Messages left with EnergySolutions, the Salt Lake City-based company seeking to bury the waste, were not returned Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, Utah's Department of Environmental Quality agreed to delay public comment on EnergySolutions' plans to bury the waste at a site about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.
The agency on Monday released a 250-page report highlighting areas where regulators said EnergySolutions hasn't answered enough questions about how the storage site will weather the changes of time, including large-scale geologic changes to the planet.
EnergySolutions then requested more time to address those concerns, saying it doesn't want the public to begin weighing in until it resolves the issues.
DEQ did not announce the new dates for the public comment period, which started Monday and was originally planned to run through May.
Environmental group HEAL Utah said EnergySolutions said this week that the company has had enough time and the plan should be rejected.
"There's no way to prove that waste that grows in hazard for two million years can be safely stored just below ground in a mound in the desert," HEAL Utah executive director Matt Pacenza said in a statement. "These aren't 'unresolved questions.' They're fatal flaws."
The director of the state Division of Radiation Control would make the final decision on whether or not to allow the plan to move forward, but officials have said public comment will play a large role in the decision.
DEQ said Thursday it still plans to hold public meetings about the issue in early May.
EnergySolutions operates a square-mile nuclear waste treatment and disposal facility in the Utah's desert, where other low-level waste has been stored in the area for 30 years.
The low-level waste that's already stored in Utah becomes significantly less radioactive over a few hundred years.
Depleted uranium is initially less radioactive than that waste but grows more radioactive over time because the material it produces when it decays is unstable. That material, which emits radiation, reproduces until it eventually becomes stable after billions of years.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process used for nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors.
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