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Posted: 6:19 AM- EnergySolutions has gone to court to protect its plan to import low-level nuclear waste from Italy.
The Salt Lake City nuclear waste services company filed a lawsuit Monday asking the U.S. District Court in Utah to rule that a regional organization, the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, has no authority over its Utah disposal site.
At a meeting planned for Thursday in Boise, Idaho, the eight member states of the compact are to consider whether to give explicit approval for the importation of foreign waste to the EnergySolutions disposal facility in Tooele County.
But because of a vow made last month by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Utah is set to use its deciding vote to block the Italy waste.
Dianne Nielson, Huntsman's energy adviser and longtime director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, declined to comment late Monday, although she said the governor had been informed about the suit.
But Steve Creamer, chief executive officer of EnergySolutions, defended the company's march to court and pledged to limit international waste at the Tooele County site to 5 percent of the remaining capacity at the mile-square facility.
"This action is intended to clarify whether the Northwest Compact has authority to restrict or control the operations of our Clive facility, and therefore prohibit the company from undertaking an important international project," said Creamer in a news release.
Under federal law, Utah is a member of the Northwest Compact. The compact is part of a nationwide system that appoints regional authorities to decide what kinds of waste are permitted in and out of its boundaries and from where the waste can come.
Nearly 20 years ago, when EnergySolutions was called Envirocare of Utah, it went to the Northwest Compact seeking permission to accept low level waste. The state's top radiation official, Larry Anderson, and the company's founder, Khosrow Semnani, persuaded the compact to allow Utah to host the nation's first and only commercially owned and operated low-level waste site.
Most years, the Utah site now takes up to 98 percent of low-level waste generated nationwide. The waste is significantly less radioactive than reactor fuel rods or transuranic waste.
Now EnergySolutions contends that since Clive is privately owned and operated, the compact has no say over the Utah site as it does over the government-owned regional facility in Richland, Wash.
The company proposed in September to take 20,000 tons from Italy's dismantled reactor program, process it at an EnergySolutions plant in Tennessee, sell some of the recycled metal as shielding and dispose of the remaining 1,600 tons in Tooele County. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been taking comments on the plan, but it will not be able to approve it unless the Northwest Compact votes to back the import.
Huntsman said he would use Utah's vote to block the waste because there is no federal ban on foreign waste importation, as he says there should be. Last year, the Republican governor vowed to go to the compact to have EnergySolutions' capacity capped, but he signed a deal with the company to enact the cap without the Northwest Compact's help.
"EnergySolutions offers the best technologies and facilities for the safe dismantling and decontamination of retired nuclear power plants, which is essential to the development of new nuclear power generation facilities," said Creamer. "Our services and facilities support greater global utilization of safe, clean and reliable nuclear energy - which is critical in addressing issues of energy security and global warming."