EnergySolutions Inc. backs Bennett in re-election

EnergySolutions Inc. backs Bennett in re-election

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah-based nuclear waste disposal firm fighting to allow the continued importation of foreign radioactive waste for disposal here has chosen who it is backing in the state's crowded Republican field for a U.S. Senate seat.

EnergySolutions Inc.'s political action committee has donated $9,000 to Sen. Bob Bennett's re-election campaign this year, snubbing fellow Republican Mark Shurtleff, who received a $10,000 donation from the company last year on his way to winning his third term as the state's attorney general.

Bennett is seeking his fourth term.

"EnergySolutions' PAC is funded by EnergySolutions employees and we are a very strong supporter of Sen. Bennett," said company spokeswoman Jill Sigal. "The EnergySolutions PAC supports pro-nuclear members of Congress and pro-nuclear candidates."

EnergySolutions is a major political player in the state, where it operates the country's largest and only privately owned low-level radioactive waste disposal site.

For years, the company has used an army of lobbyists and large campaign contributions to make state law more friendly to its interests. But many of its upcoming battles are on the federal level, including an attempt by U.S. Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., to ban the importation of foreign nuclear waste.

Their bill, which has a companion version in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is in response to the company's efforts to import up to 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from Italy's shuttered nuclear power program through the ports of Charleston, S.C. or New Orleans for processing in Tennessee.

After processing, about 1,600 tons would be shipped to Utah for disposal in the desert about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Small amounts of radioactive waste have been imported in the past, including from Canada, but the Italian waste is the largest single amount the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever received an import license application for.

Bennett has not signed on as a co-sponsor to Alexander's bill.

Messages left with Bennett's campaign office and spokeswoman were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Messages left with Shurtleff and Democratic challenger Sam Granato Wednesday also were not immediately returned.

In addition to Shurtleff, Bennett is also facing challenges from fellow Republicans Tim Bridgewater, a former Congressional candidate, Internet real estate marketer Cherilyn Eagar and South Jordan businessman James Williams.

Federal Election Commission reports show Bennett has about $760,000 in cash on hand, while Shurtleff has about $104,000. While fundraising can be a show of a candidate's strength, it's less important here than in many other states because party nominees are chosen at the state convention by delegates that can be wooed with considerably less expense than the general population.

Only candidates who fail to receive 60 percent of the vote at the convention are forced into a primary.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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