EnergySolutions Inc. wants to bring less than 1,600 tons of low-level nuclear waste from Italy to its disposal landfill at Clive, Tooele County.
The amount would be approximately 8 percent of the less than 20,000 tons of the material the company wants to import to the United States from Italy by ship. The total amount, including that destined for Utah, was described by EnergySolutions as "well under the 20,000 tons specified" in a license application.
The waste would arrive at the ports of Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans and then go to EnergySolutions' facility at Bear Creek, Tenn., for processing. A small amount left after recycling would be sent to Utah.
"EnergySolutions wants to be the world's nuclear-waste company," said Christopher Thomas, policy director for the Salt Lake City-based advocacy group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. "What that means for Utah is we become the world's nuclear dumping ground."
Greg Hopkins, EnergySolutions vice president for communications, said that bringing foreign radioactive materials into the United States for recycling "has been an ongoing practice of the company for many years."
All of the material to be imported from Italy is considered low-level in radioactivity. According to an import license fact sheet provided by Hopkins, "none of the material to be imported... will exceed the NRC's low-level limits for shallow land disposal of radioactive waste." Most of the waste is paper, plastic, wood, metal, ion-exchange resins and oil, the company added.
At Bear Creek, EnergySolutions plans to melt and incinerate most of the material. The recycled melted metals will be sold as shielding blocks for use in nuclear facilities, the company said.
Waste left over from this process will be packaged and classified to make sure none is above Class A, the least radioactive level, before the packages are shipped to EnergySolutions, the company said. A Utah law prohibits waste from entering the state that is "hotter" than Class A.
The material shipped to Clive will be about 1 percent of the total volume received at the landfill annually, the company's fact sheet says.
But Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said the imported waste from Italy could exceed federal radiation limits, and they wrote to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, Dale Klein, expressing concern about the amount of waste that EnergySolutions wishes to import. Barton is the ranking member on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Whitfield is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
"It is our understanding that this is the first time NRC has received a license application for the importation and domestic disposal of such a large quantity of radioactive waste," they wrote in their Nov. 14 letter.
The lawmakers asked about the makeup of the waste, saying EnergySolutions may not know its exact composition and type before it leaves Italy.
"Consequently, the radioactive composition of some of the waste arriving at the ports of Charleston and New Orleans will likely exceed NRC's threshold limits for low-level waste disposal and will not be suitable for storage in the company's Clive, Utah, disposal facility."
To deal with that possibility, EnergySolutions wants another license to ship back to Italy any waste too dangerous to be transported or accepted at Clive, the congressmen said.
A fact sheet provided by EnergySolutions says the company is carrying out extensive characterization work to make sure the material brought into the United States is transported according to regulations, and the company will make sure all waste leaving Italy will be handled properly in the United States and not returned to Italy.
Even so, Thomas with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah remains concerned. "There's a precedent whereby material from any country around the world can ship their nuclear waste problems to Utah," he said.
Hopkins said EnergySolutions has been processing and recycling material at Bear Creek for years, and that since 1995 the facility has brought in more than 2.2 million pounds of metals to be fabricated into building products. The materials have come from nations including Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom, he said."This is nothing new for us. It's part of our business," Hopkins said.