In 1990 the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians in Skull Valley, Utah began investigating the possibility of using their reservation in Tooele County as a facility for the temporary storage of nuclear waste. The Goshute Indian Reservation is located in Utah’s remote west desert, 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and is surrounded by hazardous waste industries and military installations, which limits options for economic development. In 1996 the Indian Tribe met with representatives of Private Fuel Storage, LLC (PFS), a consortium of eight electric utility companies (formed in 1994) that owned 30 operating and 3 shutdown commercial nuclear power plants — Xcel Energy; Genoa Fuel Tech; American Electric Power; Southern California Edison; Southern Nuclear Company; First Energy; Entergy; and Florida Power and Light. Shortly thereafter, PFS and the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians negotiated a 25-year lease agreement for an 820-acre parcel of land located on the Goshute reservation.
Under the lease agreement, PFS was afforded the opportunity to seek a license to construct and operate an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) for the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel (SNF). The ISFSI was designed to accommodate 4,000 dry casks capable of storing up to 44,000 metric tons of SNF. PFS proposed to use the Holtec International Hi-Storm 100 cask system. The ISFSI design also included a cask handling building (in which sealed canisters containing SNF are removed from their transportation casks and placed in storage casks) as well as administrative and health physics offices. The license application was submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in June 1997. The State of Utah intervened in the administrative proceeding and was opposed to the license. NRC granted the license in February 2006 over the objections of the State of Utah, but conditioned the start of construction on the receipt by PFS of necessary project funding as well as additional required federal approvals from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB). BLM and BIA are offices within the Department of Interior. BLM approval was required for the right-of-ways necessary to access the ISFSI site by either a rail spur in Skull Valley or an intermodal transfer facility near Timpie. BIA approval was required for the lease agreement between PFS and the Goshute Indian Tribe. STB approval was required if a rail spur was to be used to access the ISFSI site. PFS estimated that after all these approvals were obtained, construction of the ISFSI would take approximately 30-36 months.
Subsequent to grant of the NRC license, the opposition by the State of Utah continued with the Governor enlisting the aid of U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Harry Reid (Nevada). Through their efforts they were able to convince several of the utilities that were original members in PFS not to participate in or fund the project (although some conditioned their decisions on continued progress by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to license the Yucca Mountain geologic repository for disposal of SNF). In January 2006, Congress and the President designated the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area in northwestern Utah between the Goshute Indian Reservation and Interstate 80, effectively preventing rail access to the ISFSI site and requiring truck transportation via the intermodal transfer facility. (The Skull Valley reservation appears in the lower right hand portion of the accompany map, and Interstate 80 is at the top of the map.) In late 2006 the Department of Interior denied PFS the approvals needed from BLM (right-of-ways) and BIA (lease approval). PFS and the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indians filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior in July 2007, and three years later in July 2010 the federal district court reversed and remanded the matter back to the Department of Interior for further consideration.
Both the continuous opposition by the State of Utah and the long-term support of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians of the ISFSI proposed by PFS in northwestern Utah caught the attention of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC). Although BRC did not recommend any site (for SNF storage or disposal) in its final report issued in Janaury 2012, they did recommend the development of one or more consolidated sites in the U.S. for long-term storage of SNF provided there is sufficient consent from local and state governments and affected Indian Tribes. BRC did not articulate what degree of consent would be sufficient or provide any recommendations on how to deal with partial consent — these are matters being considered by DOE with recommendations expected in July 2012. However, as a result of the interest by the BRC, and in light of the decision of the Obama Administration to terminate the Yucca Mountain project, the PFS project is being considered once again as a possible new site for SNF storage.