Northwest Nuclear Smackdown

The Northwest Compact just turned down Energy Solutions' proposal to bury some of Italy's nuclear waste in the fair state of Utah.

Why is that important? Because it's going to set off serious fireworks of drama this summer. Just you wait.

Here's the back story: Last fall, EnergySolutions a nuclear waste disposal company that's been accused of some shady dealings in the past, applied with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to import 20,000 tons of low-level nuclear waste (LLW) from Italy for burial in their nuclear waste dump in Clive, Utah. LLW isn't the bubbling containers of green goo of Troma Films. It's the lowest class of nuclear waste-- tissues you sneeze into on the hot side of the reactor; boots or gloves that have some contamination but not enough to merit disposal with high level waste. But still. It's other countries' nuclear waste, the ultimate NIMBY. And this isn't a one-time deal: EnergySolutions plans to make importing other countries' LLW its business.

Well, Bart Gordon's head fell off. Gordon, who is chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, immediately introduced a bill banning all importation of foreign LLW. You can't blame him. This would set a terrible precedent for other countries that have no place for their nuclear waste, basically telling them that the western US is a logical choice for the world's nuclear waste dump. (It didn't work in Australia either.)

The Northwest Compact is the federally mandated entity in charge of the Northwestern US' low level nuclear waste. Utah is within the NW Compact's purview. So, earlier today, the NW compact handily smacked EnergySolutions down.

But here's the catch. EnergySolutions is a private company. As such, the company maintains that its private nuclear waste dump is not bound by the rules that govern the federally controlled nuclear waste dumps. So on Monday, probably anticipating today's outcome, they filed a pre-emptive suit.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, meanwhile, is letting people comment until June 10. (Over 1000 comments so far.) Then it will issue its own decision. If the NRC trumps the NW compact and rules in favor of EnergySolutions, there will be a huge catfight in Utah. If Rep. Gordon's bill gets passed, there will be a huge catfight in Congress, as all of the NRC appointees were put there by President Bush. They're not going to enjoy being told how to do their jobs.

Stay tuned.


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