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Rep. Bishop says foreign waste in Utah is not a federal issue

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- If states are willing to accept foreign nuclear waste, there's no reason the federal government should prohibit them from handling it, says a Utah congressman whose district could get tons of Italian leftovers.

"I don't see it as a federal issue," U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop told The Associated Press.

"If the state of Tennessee wants to take it, and if the state of Utah wants to take it, I'm going to punt it back to them. It is within their purview," the Republican said.

EnergySolutions Inc. wants to import about 20,000 tons of waste from Italian nuclear plants for processing in Tennessee.

After processing, about 8 percent, or some 1,600 tons, would be shipped to the company's facility in Bishop's district, about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, for disposal. It is the largest and only privately owned radioactive-waste dump in the U.S.

The company's application is at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is taking public comment through June 10.

Bishop differs from U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat who is co-sponsoring a bill that would ban nuclear-waste imports unless it originated in the U.S. or came from an overseas U.S. military facility.

The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitefield, R-Ky., is a direct response to EnergySolutions' proposal.

The company's plan has drawn opposition from environmental groups and politicians upset over foreign waste when this country still is trying to deal with its own nuclear waste.

"It is incumbent upon us to insist that other countries take responsibility for the disposal of their own nuclear waste and not attempt to utilize the United States as a dumping ground," reads part of a resolution being considered by the South Carolina Legislature.

South Carolina lawmakers have closed that state's radioactive-waste dump to any waste that doesn't originate from there, New Jersey or Connecticut, leaving the Utah site as the only one to accept low-level radioactive waste from outside the region.

There's concern in South Carolina because the Italian waste could come through the Charleston port.

Bishop is a former lobbyist for Envirocare, EnergySolutions' predecessor, and has received more than $20,000 in campaign contributions from the company's executives and its political-action committee since being elected in 2002.

The company has also spent heavily on legislative races and succeeded in taking state lawmakers out of the approval process for accepting more waste than its license allows at the Clive, Utah, site.

Matheson, who has received nearly $11,000 in campaign contributions from the EnergySolutions PAC and its executives since 2006, contends the U.S. has no business accepting foreign waste because its domestic disposal sites are so limited.

The company has an agreement with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman that prohibits it from seeking a license to expand the volume of waste it can accept. The agreement, however, is valid only as long as Huntsman, who is up for re-election this year, is in office.

EnergySolutions officials say Matheson's bill isn't necessary, and they insist the company has no plan to become the primary disposal source for the world's nuclear waste.

Bishop said his position boils down to local control. "I wanted to lose power in Washington and make sure states have the right to make more and more decisions," he said. "I really don't want to take away their options. Utah should be able to say what it will and will not accept."

But when it comes to whether the U.S. should accept foreign waste, Huntsman's office recently said the issue should be decided at the federal level.

Huntsman, a Republican, has said his primary concern is capping the volume of waste, regardless of where it comes from.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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