Some lawmakers question Matheson's bill to ban foreign nuke waste
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Posted: 9:44 AM- WASHINGTON -- Legislation that would prohibit Italian radioactive waste from ending up in Utah's west desert may hit a snag with some members of Congress who see the effort to ban the import of the low-level waste as a way to block domestic nuclear power.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and two colleagues pushed the legislation during a hearing on Tuesday, saying that EnergySolutions' plan to bring some 20,000 tons of the low-level radioactive waste from Italy for processing in Tennessee, and storage of some 1,600 tons in Utah sets a dangerous precedent.

Some Republicans, though, didn't buy it.

"I see the bill at the center of this hearing as a NIMBY -- not in my backyard -- issue that could serve as a distraction from the coming nuclear renaissance many of us are fighting for," said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who has two nuclear plants on his district. "This isn't necessarily about importing waste from Italy this (is) about shutting down all of our domestic processing and disposal capabilities, and ultimately about mothballing all of our zero emissions nuclear power plants."

Matheson's bill would block the importation of any low-level nuclear waste from foreign countries with a few exceptions, a move he says would make clear that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not approve the license for the Clive, Utah, facility.

The NRC currently is accepting public comments on EnergySolutions proposal to import the Italian waste, though Utah and the Northwest Compact, a public body created by Congress to allow states to decide on local issues with regard to radioactive waste, oppose the license.

The company, based in Salt Lake City, has sued in the U.S. District Court of Utah arguing the compact has no authority to block the waste from being stored in Utah.

EnergySolutions chief executive Steve Creamer is expected to testify soon in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.

tburr@sltrib.com