Hearing on foreign nuke waste ban bill is set

Hearing on foreign nuke waste ban bill is set

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An effort to ban the importation of foreign nuclear waste has been given new life with a hearing set for next week in Washington, D.C.

The hearing for the Radioactive Import Deterrence Act was scheduled for Oct. 16. The bill's sponsors, U.S. Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., drew it up in response to EnergySolutions Inc.'s plan to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy through the ports of Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans.

After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons would be disposed of at EnergySolutions' facility in Utah.

It is the largest single amount of foreign waste the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been asked to allow into the country and the application has drawn a record number of public comments -- most in opposition to the plan.

"We are the only nation in the world that imports and disposes other countries' low-level radioactive waste. Unless we act, the United States is destined to become the world's dumping ground," Gordon said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Tuesday's hearing will provide another opportunity to shed light on the importance of this issue."

The hearing will be the bill's second held by a House subcommittee. The first came last May, but the bill never advanced. At the time, some Republicans said they were concerned the bill threatened the nuclear power industry.

Matheson and Gordon contend their bill actually protects the nuclear industry in the country, saying the country should reserve its disposal facilities for domestic waste as the U.S. increasingly looks toward expanding the use of nuclear power.

EnergySolutions' facility, about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, is the only one currently available to 36 states.

The company said capacity at its facility isn't a problem and has pledged to limit the amount of foreign waste it accepts to 5 percent of the facility's remaining capacity.

"We don't think under any stretch of the imagination that 4.3 acres in the west desert of Utah can be termed a dumping ground for anything," said company spokeswoman Jill Sigal.

Company officials have said importing foreign waste is important because it will allow them to develop relationships with other countries with a goal of building disposal sites abroad.

If the NRC grants the company an import license, it will be doing so over the objections of the state. Utah has tried to use a congressionally chartered low-level radioactive waste regional compact system to block the waste from coming here.

But a federal judge has ruled that the system doesn't have the authority to regulate the facility. Utah is appealing that ruling, and other regional compacts have filed briefs in support of Utah and its compact's position.

Some GOP lawmakers are urging Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to drop the appeal and cut a profit-sharing deal with EnergySolutions as a way to soften an expected $850 million budget shortfall. Herbert has said he's committed to pursuing the appeal.

No such profit sharing agreement has been offered to any other state.

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

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