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Hansen Tries To Thwart N-Site Access
Sunday, May 12, 2002


   SANDY -- Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, pushed through a House bill that might effectively block a high-level nuclear waste storage site proposed in Utah's west desert.
    The stealth move showed Hansen, a 22-year House veteran scheduled to retire at year's end, still has got a few tricks left in him. He used his clout to quietly place an anti-nuke mechanism in a military authorization bill that designates 500,000 acres of Utah land as wilderness, covering the sprawling Utah Test and Training Range used by fighter pilots stationed at Hill Air Force Base.
    Sold as a way to protect the military base and range from future encroachment or closure, the measure also contains the obscure provision designed to prevent transportation of nuclear waste to Skull Valley, where the Goshute Band has proposed constructing a temporary storage facility for 44,000 tons of nuclear waste.
    "That's blocked right now," Hansen announced Saturday at the Republican State Convention. "If the Senate doesn't foul up, we're all right."
    The provision would designate as wilderness a key transportation corridor believed essential to shipping waste to the proposed storage site.
    The bill rocketed through the House Armed Services Committee, on which Hansen sits, and passed the full House at 3 a.m. Friday.
    Utah officials know the provision stands little chance in the Senate, but they will focus on fighting the battle in a conference committee, where the House and Senate work out comprises when different versions of bills pass. Hansen is expected to be appointed a member of the conference committee.
    The Farmington Republican, working with Gov. Mike Leavitt, deliberately kept quiet about the Skull Valley piece of the legislation.
    "I didn't want to say anything about it" and tip off Private Fuel Storage (PFS,) the consortium of utilities pushing the Skull Valley proposal as a storage facility for spent fuel rods now stockpiled on-site at nuclear power plants, acknowledged Hansen.
    PFS learned of the maneuver well after it was launched, and he said its furious lobbying failed to stop the measure.
    "It was snuck in," said PFS spokeswoman Sue Martin.
    "There was absolutely no debate, no hearings," she said. "If this had been put through in the normal way legislation is handled there would have been hearings."
    Martin said she could not say whether the provision, if approved by the Senate, would, indeed, block the nuclear-waste repository. "That was certainly their intent," said Martin. "But I just don't know. I don't want to speculate on what this might do."
    She said PFS isn't the only opponent of the measure. Many environmental groups are concerned because the bill would "fundamentally change the way those lands are administered and managed," she said.
    "We're not the only ones watching it. There's a broad spectrum of concern out there."
    Leavitt denied the anti-nuclear provision in the legislation was a sneak attack.
    "It was always disclosed," said the governor, who wrote dozens of letters and worked the phones on behalf of the bill. Leavitt will fly Monday to Washington for a full day of White House meetings with Cabinet and senior staff Tuesday in the attempt to get administration buy-in on the measure.
    "It's in the interests of the administration," he said, stressing portion of the bill preserving the military training range. "This is a major defense asset."
    Leavitt stopped short of saying the bill, if enacted, would block the nuclear storage plan. But he did say it gives the state another potent weapon in its arsenal against the proposal.
    "We will argue with intensity that there should be no nuclear waste crossing wilderness areas," he said. "It's a milestone in a long trail. . . . This is just one, but it should not be minimized. It's a big deal."

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