Matheson legislation to ban foreign nuclear waste clears another hurdle
Washington » A House committee advanced legislation Thursday that would halt a move by Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions to import 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste into the United States, some of which would be disposed of in Utah.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee overwhelmingly approved the legislation, mostly along party lines, that bars any foreign low-level radioactive waste to be brought onto American soil for storage or disposal.
Rep. Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat and bill co-sponsor, said the next battle was to get the measure onto the House floor for a vote, which he says potentially could come in December.
"If it comes up with a vote, I think we've got the votes to win," Matheson said.
Committee members passed the bill forward 34-12, with all but four Republicans on the panel opposing the legislation. Several GOP members said the bill would go against trade deals being struck with Italy and other countries and also injects Congress into an issue before the courts.
EnergySolutions won a first round in court over a question of whether Utah and a congressionally chartered nuclear waste compact could block the Italian waste from being buried at the company's Tooele County facility. Utah and the Northwest Compact have appealed.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who initially co-sponsored the legislation, said that research has shown there is no capacity concern at the EnergySolutions' site, so why not let the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decide whether to grant the company a license to import the waste.
"Obviously, we already have a domestic business in the business of accepting low-level radioactive waste," he said, noting that 14 license have been approved previously to import foreign waste without objection.
He called it "shortsighted."
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said opponents are misguided in their criticism since U.S. companies are free to build waste sites in other countries and actually preserves the space at EnergySolutions' facility for domestically produced nuclear waste.
The committee rejected, largely along party lines, an amendment by Whitfield that would essentially allow the waste into the United States as long as the NRC says there is enough capacity left. EnergySolutions has promised to only fill up to 5 percent of its Clive, Utah facility with foreign waste and only over a 10-year period.
EnergySolutions officials previously said they expect the bill to pass in the House but that it will have a serious battle getting through the Senate.
The company has applied for a license that would allow it to import the waste from Italy, process it in Tennessee and dispose of about 1,600 tons in Utah.