Gordon Urges NRC to Reject Application to Dump Foreign Nuclear Waste In U.S.
(Washington, DC) U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to reject the application of EnergySolutions to import 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) from Italy into the United States for processing and disposal. The NRC published a notice in the Federal Register yesterday which initiated a 30-day public comment period on the application.
“To approve this license would run counter to congressionally established national policies that stem from the beginning of this nation’s role as a generator of nuclear energy,” wrote Gordon. “For almost 30 years, Congress has been attempting legislative solutions to the national need for sufficient disposal capacity of LLRW generated here in the U.S. There is no indication in legislative history, nor in the NRC’s regulatory actions, that there was any intention the U.S. would ever become a welcome dumping ground for foreign-generated radioactive waste.”
The waste in question would come from the decommissioning of six nuclear reactors owned by the Italian government. Italy does not have a LLRW disposal site, but EnergySolutions has a site in Clive, Utah. The Utah site is the only Class A LLRW site available to most of the U.S. nuclear energy companies.
A review of the legislative and regulatory history indicates that the only reason there wasn’t a complete ban placed on the importation of foreign-generated LLRW into the U.S. was so that “important policy goals” could be furthered, such as shipping waste for research purposes or taking back waste by the U.S. government or returning sealed sources. “Those ‘important policy goals’ don’t appear in this license application,” Gordon continued. “And this is not a one-time application. This is the beginning of a commercial business that EnergySolutions intends to expand. In fact, earlier this week, a company spokesman was quoted as saying that he hoped the Italian project and other foreign ventures would bring in more business to EnergySolutions’ processing facilities in the U.S.”
Chairman Gordon pointed out that most European countries do not have adequate disposal sites for LLRW even though they are decommissioning a significant number of nuclear reactors. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia also do not have enough disposal capacity for their own waste.
For the NRC to implement such a policy change through “the façade of this single license application” without a full debate in Congress would be a serious error. “Congress never intended this, and no other country in the world has offered up its own disposal sites to whoever wants to come. The United States cannot be put in this position based on the revenue aspirations of a single company,” Gordon stated. “This is not how a democracy should function.”
A copy of the letter from Chairman Gordon to the NRC is can be found at the left.