Nuclear waste: Huntsman slams door on Italian import

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has wisely waded into the fray, and from all indications, dealt a knock-out blow to EnergySolutions' plan to import low-level radioactive waste from Italy's nuclear power industry.

Huntsman said he will instruct his representative on the board of the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-level Radioactive Waste, state Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Bill Sinclair, to vote against the plan on May 8. And Sinclair says he will comply with the governor's request.

Hopefully, that will end this chapter in Utah's nuclear waste saga. While EnergySolutions' lawyers may have a different interpretation, the law creating the compact, which oversees nuclear waste disposal in eight states, seems quite clear. In order to accept waste generated outside the region, "it shall require ... the affirmative vote of the member of any party state in which a facility affected by such arrangement is located."

And in this case - with 1,600 tons of waste earmarked for EnergySolutions' disposal facility in Tooele County - Utah is the state, and Sinclair is the man. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely be forced to deny the import license request.

Now, it's EnergySolutions' move. The company would do well to withdraw its licensing request and mend fences. But company spokesman John Ward told The Salt Lake Tribune that EnergySolutions will "continueto pursue the Italian clean-up project."

Will EnergySolutions argue that its operations are not covered by the Northwest Compact? Will it attempt to invoke the agreement it has with Huntsman not to seek an expansion of the dump, the agreement that the governor previously said tied his hands? Or could the company, which spreads plenty of political campaign contributions around, call in its favors and convince the state Legislature to withdraw from the compact, making the compact's objections null and void for this, or at least future, import license requests?

Congress could make all those questions moot, and close the book for good on the nuclear waste import issue. Federal lawmakers should move quickly to enact HR5362, a bill that would impose an import ban on low-level radioactive waste, and rightly reserve our dwindling disposal space for domestic waste.

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