EnergySolutions used loophole to bring Brazilian nuke waste to Utah
PORTLAND, Ore. – Even as debate has roiled for months over a proposal to bury radioactive waste from Italy in Utah, plans for a shipment from South America have been quietly in the works.
But the plan to bring in contaminated laundry waste from a nuclear reactor in Brazil appears dead on arrival.
No sooner was the proposal revealed publicly Wednesday than a regional oversight panel made clear its intentions to tell federal regulators the foreign waste won’t be allowed at the EnergySolutions Inc. landfill in Tooele County.
And members of the eight-state group agreed to take a few more steps to make sure that the Salt Lake City nuclear waste company does not bury any more foreign waste at the specialized Utah landfill.
“We accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” said Bill Sinclair, Utah’s representative on the Northwest Compact board and deputy director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, following Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ve sent a message.”
The compact’s main task in the session was to close a loophole that has apparently allowed some low-level radioactive waste to be disposed of at EnergySolutions in the past eight years. The loophole, reflected in Tennessee and NRC regulations, has allowed EnergySolutions to relabel waste originating from foreign nations after it goes through nuclear waste treatment plants so that it can be buried in Tooele
Word about the compact’s actions didn’t faze company spokeswoman Jill Sigal.
“What the compact does is not going to have a bearing on us,” she said.
“We don’t think the Northwest Compact has authority over us.”
The company has gone to a federal judge for a ruling on the authority question. And, as the Northwest Compact tries to make its case that Congress gave it authority over the flow of waste in and out of the region, bills have been introduced in Congress to ban foreign waste from the United States.
The compact’s action Wednesday prompted Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah and Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee to renew calls for the passage of their bill.
“We consider this an unacceptable attempt to get around the Compact’s authority,” the Democrats said of the loophole.
“Our legislation will put a stop to this questionable interpretation of the law. No other country in the world takes another country’s radioactive waste and neither should the United States.”
A year ago, EnergySolutions asked the NRC for a license to import 20,000 tons of waste from Italy’s shut-down nuclear program, process it in a company-owned plant in Tennessee and dispose of 1,600 tons of residue in Utah. It was the NRC’s largest import request to date.
Compact members also discussed other ways they can make sure they know the origins of waste headed for Utah in the future.
Last spring, EnergySolutions’ Chairman and chief executive officer Steve Creamer said his company had accepted waste from Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada and Mexico.
The waste from Brazil would be the residuals of several containers of laundry from a reactor. Eastern Technologies, of Ashford, Ala., applied for an import license from the NRC on July 16. The compact states were surprised when informed of the application last month and had not discussed it publicly until Wednesday’s meeting.
Even though the amount of radiation that would be added to the Tooele County site is small, the import license should be rejected because EnergySolutions’s contract with the Northwest Compact does not specifically allow waste generated in another country, the compact will tell the NRC.
Besides making sure that the waste can be imported safely, the NRC must ensure the any waste products have an approved place for disposal.