EnergySolutions defends foreign nuclear waste plan

AP News
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Posted: Dec 24, 2009 8:38 AM

EnergySolutions Inc. has started airing commercials critical of a U.S. congressman who wants to prevent the company from importing Italian nuclear waste for disposal in Utah's west desert.

The company is fighting a bill in Congress sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that would ban the importation of foreign low-level radioactive waste unless it originated in the U.S. or served a strategic national purpose.

EnergySolutions contends jobs will be put at risk if it isn't allowed to dispose of the waste at its facility, about miles west of Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Matheson said that any country that creates nuclear waste should dispose of it itself.

The two argued Wednesday at separate news conferences over a mailer Matheson sent to constituents in support of his bill and a commercial aired in response on Sunday by EnergySolutions.

The bill was written to block the company's plans to import up to 20,000 tons of waste from Italy's shuttered nuclear power program through the ports of either Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans. After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons would be disposed of in Utah.

If approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it would be the largest single shipment of foreign radioactive waste ever allowed into the U.S.

Matheson and bill co-sponsors, U.S. Reps. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn, and Lee Terry, R-Neb., contend EnergySolutions' facility should be preserved for domestic nuclear waste. The company's facility is currently the only one available to 36 states.

"No other country in the world takes low-level radioactive waste from foreign sources. I am taking the necessary steps to prevent Utah from becoming a permanent dumping ground for nuclear waste," Matheson wrote in the brochure.

In its commercial, the company says the brochure is misleading.

"Matheson's recent mailer uses half truths, misstatements and fear-mongering to continue his mission of tearing down Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions, a company that provides hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars to Utah's economy," the commercial says.

"With no regard for the facts or the science, Matheson has aligned with radical liberal groups who care more about pursuing a national liberal agenda than about saving hundreds of jobs in Utah."

In Matheson's brochure and EnergySolutions' commercial, neither is completely forthcoming, and both lack the proper context to substantiate their claims.

Matheson's mailer fails to mention his stated reason for keeping foreign waste out of the country _ to have a place for domestic waste.

Despite what Matheson's brochure says, Utah is already a permanent dumping ground for some nuclear waste. Matheson's bill would not change that, although it would keep the state from becoming the dumping ground for foreign waste.

Matheson's brochure also says the company is "disregarding the health and environmental risks attached" by seeking to dispose of the foreign waste. In fact, the Italian waste is no different from other waste the company already safely disposes of.

"We welcome public scrutiny and public dialogue on these issues, but we simply cannot tolerate the kind of falsehoods and misrepresentations that are printed in Congressman Matheson's mailer," EnergySolutions President Val Christensen said at a news conference Wednesday. "So we will correct every misrepresentation, every falsehood and every groundless attack against our company and the 531 Utah employees who work for our company."

However, the company's commercial takes its own liberties with the facts.

The commercial accuses Matheson of being on a mission to harm the company.

The reality is that Matheson has helped secure millions of federal dollars for EnergySolutions to clean up 16 million tons of radioactive waste next to the Colorado River near Moab.

That project has created 121 jobs, although it wasn't immediately clear how many were directly tied to EnergySolutions. The commercial also insinuates that Utah jobs would be lost if the company can't dispose of foreign waste. However, Christensen declined to say if layoffs would occur, and how many employees would be at risk, if Matheson's bill passes.

"I'm saying that if this economy continues the way it is and we don't have alternative sources of revenue coming into the company, then it has a definite impact on the economy and Utah jobs," Christensen said.

Matheson said Wednesday at his news conference that he believes the commercial is a political ploy designed to intimidate him. Some of the ad is spent painting Matheson, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, as a liberal.

"Despite the content and the approach of this commercial, this issue really isn't about me. This issue is about whether our federal policy should allow low-level radioactive waste to come from foreign countries," he said.

Matheson's district is one that leans Republican, although his margin of victory has steadily increased in recent years. No Republicans have filed to run against him in 2010.