A state legislative task force signed a bill that would allow nuclear waste storage in Wyoming, as long as it came from a nuclear power plant in the state.

The Legislature’s Task Force on Nuclear Energy Production voted Thursday in Casper to support the waste bill, which would allow temporary storage of highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors, after listening to some cautionary words from former Gov. Mike Sullivan.

Sullivan was governor when a proposal for a nuclear waste storage center in Fremont County faced loud opposition from Wyomingites of all stripes in the early 1990s. Sullivan said the reaction was driven by the public’s fear of anything radioactive — fears not properly answered through an information campaign.

“This is one of those issues that ignited fear, concern, opposition on any number of levels, the likes of which, frankly, I haven’t seen that much,” he said.

Sullivan vetoed the proposal in 1992, and said he still believes he made the right decision.

The task force is part of the Legislature’s quest to use the state’s rich uranium deposits in a new way. Currently, Wyoming uranium is shipped out of state for processing and used in power plants elsewhere. Ideally a Wyoming plant would consume Wyoming uranium.

Legislators have heard some interest in a Wyoming nuclear power plant from Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, said Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer. But with a law banning even short-term storage of nuclear waste, a crucial requirement for a nuclear power plant, even basic prerequisites for such a plant have yet to be met.

If legislators are to authorize any sort of nuclear waste storage, the project must be explained clearly to Wyomingites, with details about the safety of the storage method, Sullivan said.

“I think if we’re going to get there, we’ve got to do it totally transparent, with full education, with a clear product that it can be done safely, without concerns of the state,” he said.

Sullivan testified about Wyoming's storage controversy before the recent Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which submitted its final report to the secretary of energy in January. The commission was charged with coming up with a long-term solution for storage of radioactive waste.

Sullivan noted there is still no permanent storage for nuclear waste — a growing problem for U.S. nuclear reactors that must store increasing amounts of spent nuclear fuel on site. Those sites, considered temporary, continue to serve as long-term storage for the waste.

The state task force’s bill would allow a temporary storage site but only as part of a nuclear power generation station built in the state.

The task force also approved a bill that requests a study of the demand for a nuclear engineering program at the University of Wyoming.

Task Force co-chairman Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, noted the type of storage authorized in the legislation would complement a long-term storage site, but that fears and resistance persist among the public for all types of nuclear waste storage.

“The story is no different than when you faced this challenge 25 years ago,” he told Sullivan.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom/ and follow him on Twitter: @jerenergy.

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