Published February 25, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge is set to hear arguments Thursday from a nuclear waste disposal company that says a regional compact does not bar America's only commercial radioactive waste dump from accepting Italy's atomic debris.
Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions Inc. filed the lawsuit because the regional compact is refusing to let the company dispose of up to 1,600 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy at its Clive, Utah facility, about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.
"In a nutshell, we do not believe that under the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act that the Clive facility is a quote, 'regional disposal facility', and therefore if we're not a regional disposal facility then we are not under the jurisdiction of the Northwest Compact," said EnergySolutions spokeswoman Jill Sigal.
Congress created regional compacts in 1985 to provide states with a way to dispose of their own low-level radioactive waste. However, only two regional facilities were ever built — at Richland, Washington and Barnwell, South Carolina. EnergySolutions' site is America's largest low-level radioactive waste dump and the only one available to 36 states.
The company wants to import up to 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from Italy's shuttered nuclear power program through the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, or New Orleans.
If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants the company an import license, it would be the largest amount of nuclear waste ever brought into the country.
After processing in Tennessee, the remaining waste would be shipped to Utah.
Gov. Jon Huntsman is using the compact to keep the foreign waste out. Additionally, congressmen from Utah and Tennessee are proposing federal legislation that would ban the importation of any foreign waste, saying they don't want the U.S. to become an international dumping ground because the country needs its limited disposal space for domestic waste.
EnergySolutions disputes that notion, saying capacity is not an issue and that it will limit international waste to 5 percent of Clive's remaining capacity. Of the 4.3 acres the company says it would reserve for international waste, the Italian waste would take up about .02 acres of that.
The company expects to have as much as $3 billion in net revenues over the next decade if it is allowed to bring the Italian waste to Utah. It is offering half of that to Utah state government if the state will drop its objections to importing the waste, although Huntsman has said he isn't interested.
For EnergySolutions, being allowed to dispose of foreign waste in Utah is important so it can begin developing relationships with foreign countries. It eventually wants to open up similar commercial disposal facilities in Italy and elsewhere, although it has declined to say exactly where.
"If we're able to show the Italians that this type of material can be safely managed, safely disposed of, EnergySolutions' goal is to be able to site Clive-like facilities over in Europe and elsewhere. We can show folks over there that this can be safely disposed of and we're able to site facilities, whether it's in a particular country or some sort of regional facility, that will handle the low-level waste for other countries. That is our ultimate objective," Sigal said.