CHEYENNE — If the Wyoming Legislature wants the state to take over regulation of uranium milling from the federal government, it could take five years or more, a Washington, D.C., consultant told a panel Friday.
Five years is about the average time for states to draw up regulation plans and get them signed off by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Christopher Pugsley, a partner with Thompson and Pugsley PLLC, which the state hired to study the issue.
In February, the Legislature passed a bill funding a $100,000 study of the feasibility of transferring regulation from the NRC to the state. Pugsley said his firm has been asked to study the state regulating uranium milling and uranium byproducts. Uranium milling results in yellowcake, a yellow, concentrated powder. Uranium byproducts are radioactive waste, Pugsley said.
The final draft of the study is due to the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee on Dec. 1.
Committee co-chairman Rep. Tom Lockhart, R-Casper, said Wyoming is a top producer of uranium in the world, and many uranium mines are planned in the state. The Legislature thought it was prudent to examine the possibility of the state regulating the industry to see if there would be benefits in that arrangement.
The study will be around 200 pages and will contain technical details, Pugsley said.
The study will include uranium price projections for five and 10 years. If the state decides to assume primacy on uranium regulation, it will have to hire regulators who are well-educated and trained. That’s a significant investment if uranium prices drop and Wyoming mines stop producing, Pugsley said.
The study will include case studies of states with uranium regulation. The staff and budgets of the NRC will be considered to give Wyoming lawmakers an idea of what is necessary for the Cowboy State.
Some states, such as Texas, include entire sections of NRC policy and guidelines verbatim in state policy and guidelines. It’s not a bad idea, said Pugsley, who recommended Wyoming use verbatim the NRC’s licensing documents, “or you will be reinventing the wheel.”
Nancy Nuttbrock, the Wyoming Division of Land Quality administrator who is working with Pugsley’s firm, asked lawmakers to take their time going through the report because it will be dense and technical.
Some topics in the report may lead to more questions, she said, and the Legislature may want to use 2014 as another year to study the issue. It will require a lot of state money and commitment if the Legislature decides to pursue state primacy over regulation, she said.
“The staffing requirements are significant,” she said. “And the skill sets required with those staffing positions are not easily sought, retained or paid for,” she said.
Nuttbrock recommended the Legislature not draft any bills to take over uranium regulation in 2014.
“I personally agree with Nancy 110 percent of what she said earlier,” Pugsley said, adding that as lawmakers go through the material, they should think about it from legal, technical, health and safety, and budget and staff perspectives.