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EnergySolutions sues to import Italy nuclear waste

Does regional group lack the authority to keep material out?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 6:28 p.m. MDT

EnergySolutions filed a lawsuit after business hours Monday in U.S. District Court, asking a judge to decide whether the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management has authority over whether the company's Clive facility should be allowed to store materials coming from Italy.
The suit seeks only a declaratory judgment action and is not asking for damages.
"There has been a lot of misinformation quoted in association with this part of the project," EnergySolutions spokesman John Ward said on the phone Monday about storing the Italian waste in Tooele County. "A lot of people don't have a good understanding of what's involved here."
Compact members will be meeting Thursday to hear from EnergySolutions on its proposal to import 20,000 tons of waste from old nuclear reactors in Italy for processing and recycling in Tennessee. The leftovers after processing, about 1,600 tons of Class A radioactive waste, are planned for disposal in Utah.
Company officials also announced this week an offer to self-impose a limit on the amount of imported international waste materials "equal to 5 percent of the remaining capacity at its Clive disposal facility." Some of the recent criticism over the Italy proposal is that the United States should come first in allotting limited domestic storage capabilities for low-level radioactive waste.
Ward said the limit would still allow EnergySolutions to handle all ongoing material from more than 100 currently active reactors in the United States and all of the Class A low-level radioactive waste from those facilities once they are decommissioned.
In recent weeks resistance has been voluminous against the proposal to import waste from Italy.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. opposed EnergySolutions' plan, asking his representative on the eight-state compact to vote against the proposal. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is co-sponsoring legislation that would keep the waste out of Utah. The state's own Radioactive Control Board wrote a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in opposition to EnergySolutions' project.
Last month the NRC responded to overwhelming public opposition by issuing a rare "fact sheet" document intended to help people better understand the issue. And Arjun Makhijani, president of the nuclear watchdog group Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, recently suggested that the waste coming to the United States will actually be hotter Class C or B waste, which is not permitted for disposal in Utah.
"This project deals with the same kind of material that we have handled at the Clive facility for 20 years," Ward said. "It's low-level material — it's not spent fuel."
The dispute involves a relatively small amount of waste coming from Italy for dumping in Tooele County, but Ward said EnergySolutions is putting up a fight because the disposal piece of the puzzle is critical to the whole operation taking place. "I don't think there's another place it could go," he said about the 1,600 tons of waste left over after processing.
EnergySolutions' lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment to agree with company CEO Steve Creamer's claim that the NRC has the "scientific and technical expertise to evaluate import license applications pursuant to the regulatory criteria."
The company's lawsuit wants a judge to say that "the Northwest Compact does not have regulatory authority over the Clive facility, which is a private commercial facility rather than a regional facility created by the Compact"; "the U.S. Constitution does not allow the Northwest Compact to discriminate between identical domestic and foreign materials handled at the Clive facility"; and "any effort by the Northwest Compact to restrict receipt of international (low-level radioactive waste) is pre-empted by federal statutes and regulations."
Creamer said in a statement that it is his intention to have a judge "clarify" what authority the compact has over what he called an "important international project."


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com

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