House OKs bill to ban imported radioactive waste

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 7:47 PM

The House on Wednesday passed a bill banning the importation of radioactive waste for disposal in the United States.

The move was prompted by a Salt Lake City company's plan to import 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italian nuclear plants. The waste imported by EnergySolutions would have been processed in Tennessee and buried at a site in Utah.

The bill was approved 309 to 112. The Senate hasn't yet acted on the issue.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said it has no power to bar private companies from importing low-level waste as long as they meet safety and security standards. A commission official told the House in October that it also has pending applications to import waste from Brazil and Mexico for disposal in Utah.

"The United States stands alone as the only country in the world that imports other countries' radioactive waste for permanent disposal," Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., a leading sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

EnergySolutions President Val Christensen said he was disappointed but not surprised by the House vote.

The bill would "place American jobs at risk," Christensen said. "If signed into law, this bill will prevent American companies from playing an international role in the global nuclear energy industry."

The company wants to break into the global market for the handling and disposal of radioactive waste, especially in Europe.

Opponents of the measure have portrayed it as an indirect attempt to undermine the domestic nuclear power industry. It's sponsors, however, say they support nuclear power generation.

"Utah is not the place for the world's radioactive junk," Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, another lead sponsor. "We have increasing domestic demand for low-level radioactive waste disposal and shrinking space."