Company's plans to bring in Italian nuclear waste to US raises fears

Thursday, November 22, 2007

CHARLESTON, South Carolina: Environmentalists and some federal lawmakers voiced concerns over the planned shipment to the United States of radioactive nuclear waste from Italy, questioning the volume of waste being brought in and whether it exceeds federal safety standards.

EnergySolutions wants to ship about 200,000 cubic feet (5,664 cubic meters) of the radioactive waste into the United States, process it in Tennessee before burying it at a site in Clive, Utah, where the company is based.

"That's a lot of waste," said Arjun Makhijani, executive director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a nuclear watchdog group. "As far as I know, it's unprecedented for such a large amount to come to this country for disposal."

In a statement Tuesday, EnergySolutions argued that licenses had been previously granted to companies that import radioactive items from France and the Czech Republic. The company also said it was a leader in safe handling and disposal of radioactive materials.

Two U.S. congressmen sent a letter to federal regulators arguing that EnergySolutions had not specified from where the waste would come, other than it would originate from "reactors, fuel cycle facilities, research facilities and material licenses or facilities equivalent" to U.S. Superfund sites._ areas designated for the disposal of hazardous waste.

Republican lawmakers Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield also argued that some of the waste could exceed federal radiation limits, meaning it would not be allowed to enter the country and would have to be shipped back to Italy.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman David McIntyre said the agency will begin taking public comments on EnergySolutions' application soon. The approval process typically takes six months.

EnergySolutions, which handles radioactive waste for hospitals, universities and companies, has operated a nuclear waste landfill site in South Carolina since 1971. But under legislation passed earlier this year, that landfill will close to all but three states next year — South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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