Senators join effort to block EnergySolutions' nuke waste imports plan

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

America's landfills for low-level nuclear waste should be conserved for America's waste, according to a new, bipartisan bill to be introduced next week in the U.S. Senate.

The bill targets efforts by Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions to use its Tooele County landfill for contaminated cleanup waste from Italy's defunct nuclear reactors and maybe other foreign waste in the future. And it echoes a bill proposed in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and two colleagues.

U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said their bill would ban waste generated in foreign nations from being imported into the United States. It also would allow the president to grant specific exemptions only if the importation would serve a crucial national or international policy goal.

"Reserving the capacity at the Utah site for waste generated in our own country, before we import waste from other countries, makes good common sense and good public policy," said Cardin.

"There is no reason to take in the world's low-level nuclear waste when we have not figured out what to do with our own," added Alexander.

EnergySolutions applied last fall for a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to import 20,000 tons of waste from Italy, process most of it in Tennessee and bury about 1,600 tons in its mile-square low-level radioactive waste landfill about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. More than 2,000 citizens and the state of Utah have voiced their objections to the NRC about the import license.

Company spokesman John Ward called the legislation "unnecessary". "We don't believe that Congress should strip the NRC of its jurisdiction," he said, noting that the agency considers health and safety questions about proposed imports.

The senators, however, pointed to a lawsuit EnergySolutions has filed to challenge the authority of the regional panel that manages low-level waste in 11 western states. They said their bill would clarify and give certainty to the nation's policy.

Matheson welcomed the Senate bill, which does not include Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett as co-sponsors. He said there is "a chance" supporters can get the bill passed in the remaining seven weeks of the congressional session.

"There is a lot of bipartisan momentum in the House and the Senate for a ban on foreign waste," he said.

Original co-sponsors of the House version are Reps. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.

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