Photo via Taipei Times
Here's a troubling plan—the ironically named US company EnergySolutions is seeking approval to import 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from Italy. The waste would be processed in Tennessee, then shipped on over to Utah, where it would be buried in the desert. Given that Yucca Mountain is such a controversial issue, it's surprising that this plan—which the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it won't halt—isn't more hotly debated. Can this caravan of nuclear waste be stopped?Two US Representatives are attempting to do exactly that—they're sponsoring a bill that would ban foreign radioactive waste from being imported into the US unless it was for a "strategic national purpose," according to the AP.
They argue that the US should restrict its nuclear storage space to waste created domestically. But their bill has yet to even have a hearing, and it looks like the foreign waste plan is set to go ahead: the NRC says that it doesn't have the authority to restrict foreign radioactive materials from being imported. They don't "distinguish between domestic and foreign waste." Furthermore, the agency has determined that
"as long as the material can be imported safely and someone is willing to accept it, the commission can't keep the waste out."
EnergySolutions has agreed to limit 5% of their storage space to foreign radioactive waste—but the company's storage site is already responsible for 36 states' waste. And it seems a case like this could set a precedent, and maybe even open up a floodgate of tricky, potentially dangerous situations. If importing nuclear waste becomes legally recognized—and profitable—as a sound business practice, it could become a nightmare (not to mention a huge environmental concern) to regulate.
What's more, it's widely known that EnergySolutions is a major contributor to the Republican Party in Utah (the vast political majority in the state), and there are allegations that the company has promised to donate 50% of the revenue generated to the state. This certainly muddies up the issue.
On the other hand, if we have better facilities and resources to store the waste than exist in Italy, could it be better for the environment in general to import the stuff?
So is this simply the mother of all NIMBY concerns, or a dangerous move that could trigger a bevy of foreign nuclear waste importing business transactions? Time will tell.