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Environment News Service

US Company Seeks Permit to Import Nuclear Waste


WASHINGTON, DC - Bart Gordon, the Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology, does not want the United States to receive low-level radioactive waste from Italy, process it in Tennessee and dispose of it in a Utah waste site.

He says acceptance of the waste would put the U.S. on a path to becoming "the world's nuclear garbage waste dump."

On Friday, Gordon asked the Northwest Interstate Compact for Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management to withhold its support for a license application to accept the Italian waste filed by EnergySolutions, the company that operates the only private Class A low-level radioactive waste disposal in the United States.

This application marks the first time in the history of the NRC that a company has asked to dispose of large amounts of foreign-generated low-level radioactive waste in the United States.

"The U.S. already faces capacity issues and other challenges in treating and disposing of radioactive waste produced domestically," said Gordon. "We should be working on solving this problem at home before taking dangerous waste from around the world."

Low-level radioactive waste consists of contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipments and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes, and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The radioactivity can range from just above background levels found in nature to very highly radioactive in certain cases such as parts from inside the reactor vessel in a nuclear power plant, the NRC says.

Gordon has long said that the application did not appear to represent a "one-time" event because EnergySolutions, which became a publicly traded company in November, has made clear its intent to pursue decommissioning work in both the United States and Europe.

"It is highly likely that this is the first application with a string to follow," Gordon said.

On November 16, 2007, EnergySolutions' CEO and Chairman of the Board Steve Creamer rang the bell to open trading at the New York Stock Exchange where EnergySolutions' stock (NYSE: ES) began trading publicly.

EnergySolutions operates waste processing and disposition facilities in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Utah. The company also operates low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities, vaults, and landfills on the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee and Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

U.S. low-level waste is typically stored on-site by licensees, according to the NRC, either until it has decayed away and can be disposed of as ordinary trash, or until amounts are large enough for shipment to a low-level waste disposal site in containers approved by the Department of Transportation.

To obtain a permit to send waste to a law-level radioactive waste depository, federal regulations require the approval of the state and the Compact in which the disposal site is located.

EnergySolutions disposes of more than 90 percent of the low-level radioactive waste generated in the U.S. through a license granted by the State of Utah and with the permission of the Northwest Compact.

The Compact allows EnergySolutions to take low-level radioactive waste from outside the Compact because it serves "an important national purpose" and has reserved the right to "modify or rescind" its authorization at any time.

© Environment News Service (ENS) 2008

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