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Italian nuclear waste on regional agenda Thursday

Italian nuclear waste on regional agenda Thursday

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Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A meeting involving eight Western states Thursday could influence whether a Utah company is allowed to import 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste.

EnergySolutions Inc.'s proposal has generated much public opposition as well as a pledge from Gov. Jon Huntsman to use an interstate agreement to keep Utah from becoming a magnet for the world's nuclear waste.

But EnergySolutions disputes whether the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management has the authority to stop it from disposing a portion of the foreign waste at its facility, 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.

The panel will vote on the issue at its annual meeting in Boise, Idaho, with the decision likely to reverberate far beyond the West.

EnergySolutions wants to import the waste through New Orleans or Charleston, S.C., where it would then be shipped to a processing facility in Tennessee.

After processing, about 1,600 tons would be sent to Clive, Utah, which is the largest and only privately owned low-level radioactive waste dump in the country.

When the company's stock went public last fall, the dump was listed as a competitive strength as EnergySolutions increasingly seeks global business.

Opponents say the U.S. shouldn't accept foreign material because it needs the space for domestic waste. The company's application has already sparked a bill in Congress that would ban imports of all foreign waste unless it originated here or came from an overseas military facility.

The company's import license is pending before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is seeking opinions from the compact and other affected states.

But in a lawsuit filed Monday in Utah, EnergySolutions contends the group doesn't have authority over it because Clive is a private facility and not the compact's designated disposal site.

"The Northwest Compact has no authority to license the Clive Facility, does not perform health and safety inspections of the Clive Facility, and does not otherwise perform any oversight functions concerning the operations of the Clive Facility," the lawsuit says.

Congress created a regional system for low-level radioactive waste in 1985. The compact's designated facility is in Richland, Wash. All radioactive waste from Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming goes there.

The Clive site takes waste from the rest of the country. As the host state of that dump, Utah has veto authority over any shipment, according to the compact.

While EnergySolutions claims the compact doesn't control it, the company in 1991 sought permission to accept low-level radioactive waste from states outside the compact, when it was known as Envirocare.

"The compact granted permission ... so that the company could open to begin with. For EnergySolutions to negate the compact's authority at this point in time is absolutely ludicrous," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, an advocacy group.

"Anytime EnergySolutions can't get what it wants with the current rules, they just try and rewrite the law or rewrite the rules," she said.

In its lawsuit, EnergySolutions concedes it has "coordinated some of its activities with the Northwest Compact," but insists the panel has no authority over what it handles.

Utah's compact member, Bill Sinclair, is expected to use the state's veto power Thursday. He expects the NRC will follow the group's wishes.

"My sense is that we'll make the statement that the compact believes EnergySolutions needs to get (the compact's) permission to bring the waste in from Italy," he said.

The NRC is expected to make a decision on the import application in summer.

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

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