Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor... Your Nuclear Waste
Image courtesy of Akuppa via flickr
The potential approval of a company's request to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level nuclear waste from Italy has raised concerns among a slew of environmentalists and regulators that the United States could eventually become the world's "nuclear garbage dump," the Christian Science Monitor's Mark Clayton reports. The proposal, currently being weighed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has stirred opposition from groups such as Friends of the Earth and powerful congressmen such as Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.
Image courtesy of Rich Clabaugh/DOE
EnergySolutions, the Utah-based company that has made the request, would first ship the 20,000 tons of radioactive waste - the country's largest such import - to Tennessee to be processed, after which it would be sent to Utah for disposal. Critics are worried that the NRC's approval would open the floodgates for similar requests, leading to other countries around the world queuing up to dump their waste in the U.S.; they argue that the NRC's primary obligation is dealing with the waste generated in and accumulated by domestic firms.
Predictably, EnergySolutions spokespeople have disputed the size of the dump, stressing that most of it would be recycled or incinerated in Tennessee; only 8% of the original volume would find its way to Utah. In the past, the U.S. has allowed the importation of small quantities of low-level radioactive waste - EnergySolutions' request is 25 times larger than the previous largest import.
Regulators such as Rep. Gordon argue that the government simply isn't ready to allow the importation of such large volumes, having failed to foresee the country's role as a "welcome repository of foreign-generated radioactive waste," he wrote in a letter to NRC's chairman. There are 3 nuclear facilities that currently accept the least radioactive "Class A" waste; at present, two have all but stopped accepting waste from other states, leaving Clive, Utah as the only site. It accepted more than 99% of the country's "Class A" waste in 2006, but, in a recent report by the GAO, was flagged as having "uncertain future access" for other waste categories.
Despite Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s implicit approval of the deal, there is growing unease among the state's regulators about the possible future influx of large amounts of nuclear waste. How this all ends remains to be seen; while Utah's Radiation Control Board is expected to release a statement opposing the deal, the NRC, under the current administration, is more likely than not to give the nod to EnergySolutions. We already generate more waste in this country in a few days' time than we know what do with; the last thing we need is radioactive waste from other countries.