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By JOHN MILLER
Associated Press Writer
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Representatives from eight Western states met privately Thursday to discuss a lawsuit filed by a company that wants to bury a portion of 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste in Utah.
When they emerge, they could set a policy that governs foreign shipments of waste to Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The states are part of the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, which was meeting in Boise.
Earlier this week, EnergySolutions Inc. filed a lawsuit to challenge the compact's ability to regulate shipments to its facility in Clive, Utah.
EnergySolutions wants to bring the Italian waste through New Orleans or Charleston, S.C., for processing and incineration in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
About 1,600 tons of waste -- five or six rail cars a year -- would then be shipped to the company's site in Utah, the largest and only privately owned low-level radioactive waste dump in the country.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has pledged to use the eight-state compact to keep his state from becoming a dumping ground for foreign waste, partly because the move would sap space needed for domestic waste. Environmental groups have also panned the company's plan.
Utah's compact member, Bill Sinclair, could use his state's veto power to quash shipments to the state.
The decision of the compact members is expected to help set broader U.S. policy on shipments of foreign low-level radioactive waste. It could affect other countries as they scramble to find alternative locations if the United States restricts such cargo.
EnergySolutions offered to drop its lawsuit Thursday -- if regulators agree to a plan that would restrict foreign shipments to 5 percent of overall storage capacity at the Utah site.
"We have confirmed from detailed analysis that 95 percent of the remaining capacity is more than enough capacity to handle all of the low-level radioactive waste" generated by all 104 existing U.S. power plants, hospitals and universities, said Val Christensen, EnergySolutions vice president and general counsel.
Congress created the compact in 1985 as a regional system for managing low-level radioactive waste. The compact's designated facility is in Richland, Wash. All radioactive waste from the eight states goes there, while EnergySolutions takes waste in Utah from other states.
In its lawsuit, the company concedes it has "coordinated some of its activities with the Northwest Compact" in the past, but insists the panel has no authority over what it handles because the Utah site is privately owned.
The Italian waste would come from four dismantled nuclear reactors. Opponents said the 5 percent storage limit still would mean too much radioactive waste destined for Utah.
"Shouldn't foreign countries be responsible for the waste they are generating?" said John Urgo of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.
If Utah does use its veto, it will have an effect on EnergySolutions' import request at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency considering whether to allow the Italian waste into the United States.
NRC officials said there are a number of options, depending on the meeting's outcome.
"They could say we'd still like to bring the material for processing in Tennessee and dispose of it in some other way, presumably exporting the rest of it back to Italy," spokesman Dave McIntyre said in a phone interview.
The NRC public comment period on the import license ends June 10.
"If we get the letter from (the compact) saying 'No, this can't come to Utah,' I would doubt very much that we would just stamp a rejection on the application," McIntyre said.
AP writer Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)