(AP) Xcel Energy says it spent $23 million on its efforts to ship its nuclear waste to an Indian reservation in Utah, a project that may well be dead. The Interior Department scuttled the project last week by rejecting the lease that Xcel and other utilities had signed with the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes.
That lease would have allowed the utilities to ship as much as 44,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel to Goshute land about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, where it would have been stored for up to 25 or 50 years, or until a permanent federal repository becomes available, either at Yucca Mountain in Nevada or elsewhere.
Charles Bomberger, general manager of nuclear assets for Xcel, said he was disappointed with the decision because the utility has been trying for years to move its nuclear wastes out of Minnesota.
Xcel led the effort in the mid-1990s to recruit nuclear utilities across the country into Private Fuel Storage, a company formed to search for a private storage site. The Goshutes would have benefited from the project with lease payments and jobs.
Bomberger said Xcel spent significantly more than its other utility partners in PFS because it feared that its nuclear plants at Prairie Island and Monticello would have to shut down prematurely if out-of-state space for the wastes was not available.
Xcel's concern eased, he said, after the 2003 Legislature passed a law allowing Xcel to expand its on-site storage of wastes well into the future, subject to state review and approval.
Still, Bomberger said, Xcel and other utilities would like to have private storage available in Utah or elsewhere in case a permanent federal repository is delayed further or not approved.
Leon Bear, chairman of the Goshute Band, said it's premature to call the project dead, but the band has not decided whether to appeal the Interior Department decision. PFS officials are reviewing the decision, according to a spokeswoman. However, Bomberger said, Xcel will not fund the review or any possible utility appeal.
Two Interior Department divisions outlined their objections to the PFS proposal in a 46-page document.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs said storing nuclear wastes on an "interim" basis on tribal land might easily turn out to be permanent because federal efforts to build a national burial site have been plagued with uncertainty and missed deadlines. The BIA also said the nuclear wastes could become a terrorist target and that federal, tribal and local law enforcement was inadequate to protect the site.
The Bureau of Land Management said the rail line to the proposed storage site could not be built because it would cross a newly established wilderness area, and that loading the wastes from rail to trucks would cause traffic problems and expose too many workers to radiation.
Utah officials, including Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Jon Huntsman, strongly opposed the project. Bear said a "small minority" of his 125 members opposed it as well.