NRC Sees No Difference Between Foreign and Domestic Waste

Apr 14, 2009

by Elizabeth Ziegler

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not see a difference between foreign or domestic nuclear waste, according to an April 9th letter sent to the sponsors of a federal bill that would ban most imported waste. EnergySolutions Executive Vice President Jill Sigal said the letter confirms what the company has been saying all along.

"I think it's very important for people to understand that if we can just put the emotion aside for a second, whether the material is labeled Texas, Tennessee, Canada or Italy, it's the same type of material. As the NRC says there is no distinction between domestic and foreign material," Sigal said. "And we do it safely."

Sigal said the letter changes nothing about a pending lawsuit to determine whether the Northwest Interstate Compact's decision against the company's plan to store 1,600 tons of Italian radioactive waste in Utah will stand.

Those opposed to storing foreign waste at the Clive facility, about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City, say the company's argument that there's no difference between foreign and domestic waste misses the larger policy question. Vanessa Pierce with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah agrees with Utah Congressman Jim Matheson, one of the sponsors of the federal legislation, that the countries that create radioactive material should be responsible for its long-term stewardship and disposal.

"We think it's unethical to export those risks and liabilities to another country," Pierce said. "And simply because it's good for Energy Solutions' bottom line doesn't mean it's good for the rest of the United States of America."

Sigal said Energy Solutions wants to take the waste so the company can grow into new markets and show foreign countries the proper way to dispose of nuclear material. And she believes the facility is large enough. She said all the Class A radioactive waste from every nuclear reactor in the country -- plus the Department of Energy's waste -- could be stored at the facility, and it would still have enough room to dedicate roughly 5 percent of its total capacity to international waste.

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