WASHINGTON EnergySolutions would limit international low-level radioactive waste to five percent of its storage facility in Tooele County, company chair R. Steve Creamer told a U.S. House panel this morning.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and other opponents of the company's plan to bring Italian waste to the United States see a threat to the country's storage capacity for its own low-level waste. But Creamer tried to calm those fears by committing to a limit on the amount of foreign waste the company would take.
Creamer poured a salt packet into a tall glass vase half full of pink sand to illustrate the little effect taking the Italian would have on the Clive site's capacity.
"We wouldn't go over five percent at Clive," Creamer said. "That would be the very upper limit. Realistically I don't think we would ever reach that."
Creamer said the Clive facility could still take waste for 30 years which some members saw as far into the future while Matheson and others argued that is sooner than later.
EnergySolutions has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to accept about 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste produced in Italy for processing in Tennessee. The remaining 1,600 tons of waste after processing would come to the company's site Energy Solutions already disposes of about 90 percent of the low-level radioactive waste produced in this country.
A public comment period closes June 10 on whether the NRC should grant the license.
The Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management has already rejected the idea but EnergySolutions is looking for the U.S. District Court in Utah to decide whether is has the authority to do this.
Creamer emphasized at the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee hearing Tuesday that the company is not suing for damages, but just asking the court to declare what the law says.
"We believe compact does not have authority over Clive," Creamer said. "It is not a compact facility. This has nothing to do with money, nothing to do with hostilities. It is just us asking a question."
But the fact the question even has to be asked bothers Matheson and other lawmakers, who said there is a lot of finger pointing going on but an unclear regulatory process to oversee disposal of international waste.
"We have, in my opinion, a regulatory mess," Matheson said.
The hearing focused on a bill Matheson, along with Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., introduced in March to prohibit the country from taking in any foreign nuclear waste.
Matheson acknowledges that the country has received this type of waste from overseas in the past but nothing on the scale that EnergySolutions wants, which would be 25 times bigger. He said the country needs to look at its own waste disposal needs, especially if new nuclear powers plants might be built, before taking on more waste from foreign countries.
"The problem we face now was not anticipated in the 1980s," Matheson said, when federal nuclear waste policy was initially created.
"There needs to be a national law to keep nuclear waste from taking up space in finite capacity," Gordon said. "I don't see why we would want to give up even five percent."
Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., reminded the committee that Matheson's bill applies to the entire's country nuclear waste policy, not just this specific license in Utah.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the bill could stop the "nuclear renaissance" the country needs by stopping disposal capabilities.
He said the bill is more of a "NIMBY", or not in my backyard, argument."We cannot compete on a global scale if we shutdown our domestic facilities," said Upton, who has two nuclear plants in his district.