Matheson writes letter opposing Italian waste in Utah

He and a Tennessee representative say there is no place to store the radioactive waste
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WASHINGTON - Two congressmen argue in a letter sent Wednesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission lacks power to grant a license for Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions to import 20,000 tons of Italian low-level radioactive waste into the United States.

Saying they understand a decision may be granted soon on EnergySolutions' request, Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., ask the NRC to reject the application to bring the waste to American shores because there is no site to store it.

"The NRC has no authority to import waste when there is not a facility to ultimately dispose of it," Matheson and Gordon wrote.

EnergySolutions is seeking to bring the waste from Italy to Tennessee to process and then bury about 1,600 leftover tons of waste in the company's disposal site in Utah's west desert. But Utah officials have balked at the plan, and the Northwest Interstate Compact, a congressionally sanctioned entity that controls the flow of radioactive waste in its region, opposes the move as well.

EnergySolutions has asked a federal judge if the compact has the power to block the importation.

Matheson and Gordon maintain in their letter that NRC regulations require a company seeking a license to have an "appropriate facility [that] has agreed to accept the waste," and EnergySolutions doesn't have one.

The two Democrats also say that of the 4,000 comments received about EnergySolutions license request, only a handful supported it - and those came "mostly from persons connected with the nuclear waste industry."

Jill Sigal, a senior vice president for government relations at EnergySolutions, says Matheson and Gordon have written the NRC letters before and the company "respectfully" has a different opinion.

"Our import application meets the criteria for the NRC to grant EnergySolutions the import license," Sigal said, noting that the NRC approved a similar request for Canadian low-level radioactive waste in 2006.

NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden declined comment on the letter and said the commission still is considering the submitted comments. "The earliest that the commission would likely make a decision would be sometime in October."