KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on a company's request to import about 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy for processing in Tennessee and disposal in Utah.

The regulatory agency said in the Federal Register on Monday that it is allowing 30 days for petitioners to seek a hearing or request to become an intervener in the request by Utah-based EnergySolutions Inc.

Under the proposal, which has opposition in Congress and among environmental groups, EnergySolutions would import the waste through the ports of Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans.

The material — some 1 million cubic feet of paper, plastic, wood, metal and ion-exchange resins from shuttered nuclear plants — would be processed, burned and recycled at an EnergySolutions' plant in Oak Ridge, about 25 miles west of Knoxville.

About 8 percent of the total imported material eventually would be disposed of in Utah at EnergySolutions' landfill in Clive, Tooele County — perhaps less than 1,600 tons.

"This is not anything different than what we've done," Mike Johnson, president of the company's Commercial Facilities Group, told The Knoxville News Sentinel.

He said the Oak Ridge facility has probably recycled about 1.5 million tons of radioactive metals since 1996 from foreign sources including Germany, Belgium and Canada.

But the proposal has opponents, including Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee. The Tennessee Democrat has called it a "terrible idea," saying the United States has enough problems disposing its own nuclear waste. He's urged the NRC to deny the license applications.

The Friends of the Earth environmental group also opposes the proposal, and a bipartisan resolution against EnergySolutions' plans has been introduced in the South Carolina Senate.

"It sets a very bad precedent which could result in a flood of nuclear waste being dumped in the U.S.," said Tom Clements, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth in Columbia, S.C.

"This proposal must be nipped in the bud," he said. "The port of Charleston must not be turned into a nuclear highway for the world."