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A day after the head of EnergySolutions Inc. pledged to Congress he would fill no more than 5 percent of the company's Utah facility with radioactive waste from foreign countries, a British lord told Parliament the company offered to bury some of the United Kingdom's waste in the Utah desert.
A record of Parliament's proceedings May 21 reveals Lord Charles Patrick Fleeming Jenkin, of Roding, said he had talked with the company about taking some of Britain's low-level radioactive waste.
"EnergySolutions has told me that, while spent fuel and the waste from fuel reprocessing must go into a deep repository in this country, much of the so-called intermediate waste does not need to be managed in that way but can be either recycled for use in new nuclear [plants] or transported to EnergySolutions' own disposal facility, called Clive, in the Utah desert," Jenkin said.
"I have no means of ascertaining this, but it claims that this could lead to substantially lower costs with a significantly smaller repository for new-build waste and so save us a great deal of money."
Those comments were consistent with remarks made in London in early May by Mark Morant, president of International Group, to an industry gathering, according to the trade publication Nuclear Fuel Cycle Monitor.
"We are too timid in our waste solutions - we need more imagination and flexibility," Morant said. "Why not export U.K. waste to Clive?"
EnergySolutions CEO Steve Creamer told a House subcommittee last week the company intended to preserve the "national asset" of its Tooele disposal facility for domestic waste but ample space remains for foreign waste.
The company has applied for a federal license to import 20,000 tons of low-level waste from Italy to the United States, recycle some of it and bury 1,600 tons in its specialized Tooele County landfill. The state and a regional low-level waste authority have objected, as well as more than 1,000 people who have provided public comments on the plan. The company asked a federal judge earlier this month to determine that the regional organization has no authority over its Utah site.
Company spokesman John Ward noted Tuesday that EnergySolutions already has an established business of managing nuclear cleanups in Europe.
In fact, about half of the company's estimated $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion in revenues for this year are expected to come from those operations, said Ward.
"As Mister Creamer stated at the May 20th congressional hearing which Representative [Jim] Matheson [of Utah] attended, EnergySolutions would, under limited circumstances, consider handling additional international material in order to position a U.S. company overseas," Ward said. "But, as EnergySolutions committed to [Virginia Democrat and Subcommittee] Chairman [Rick] Boucher, under no circumstance would the company use more than 5 percent of its remaining capacity for international material."
He characterized the comments by Morant as "brainstorming."
The United Kingdom currently prohibits the export of radioactive waste for disposal, Ward pointed out. That means there have been no negotiations to import waste contracts from Britain.
The reports have brought a stern reaction from Matheson, a Utah Democrat who is co-sponsoring a measure to bar any foreign imports of low-level radioactive waste.
"My fear that the current proposal to import Italy's waste was just the tip of the iceberg seems valid, based on this news out of Great Britain," Matheson said in a statement. "We know the U.S. has limited storage space for domestically produced waste. If we don't set limits on foreign waste now, where will this all end?"
Matheson says the legislation to ban importing foreign waste from outside the U.S. is necessary given the domestic waste that America has yet to deal with.
"This latest report reinforces my concern that Utah will become the repository for the nuclear waste of foreign countries wishing to dispose of radioactive waste to solve their problems at Utah's and the U.S. expense," Matheson said.
* EnergySolutions has the only commercially owned and operated disposal site for low-level radioactive waste in the U.S. at Clive in Tooele County. Two other sites accept waste from a limited number of states and no waste from abroad.
* The EnergySolutions Utah site receives all but 2 to 3 percent of the low-level U.S. waste. Company officials say they have plenty of capacity for the low-level cleanup waste from all 104 U.S. nuclear plants and federal cleanups and can take waste for at least 33 more years.
* The company has offered to limit foreign waste to 5% of its remaining capacity of roughly 150 million cubic feet.