SALT LAKE CITY — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it doesn't have the authority to prevent foreign radioactive waste from being imported into the United States.
The NRC wrote in an April 9 letter to Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) that the Atomic Energy Act doesn't distinguish between domestic and foreign waste. The NRC says that as long as the material can be imported safely and someone is willing to accept it, the commission can't keep it waste out.
Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions is seeking a license to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy. After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons would be disposed of in the western Utah desert.
Matheson and Gordon are sponsoring a bill that would ban the import of low-level radioactive waste unless it originated here or was imported for a strategic national purpose.
They contend that the country should restrict space at its dumps to domestic waste. The site in Clive is the only low-level radioactive waste facility available to 36 states, although EnergySolutions says capacity there isn't an issue.
The company has agreed to limit the amount of foreign waste accepted in Clive to 5% of its remaining capacity.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he doesn't want the waste in Utah, but EnergySolutions is challenging in federal court Utah's efforts to ban it.
Matheson, Gordon and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent the NRC a list of questions asking what would happen if the court rules in EnergySolutions' favor. All three serve on the committee that oversees the NRC.
The NRC declined to give an opinion on the case and said Utah is responsible for regulating the company's facility.
"The NRC will issue a license to import low-level waste if it determines that issuance of the license would not be inimical to the common defense and security or constitute an unreasonable risk to the public health and safety and that an appropriate facility has agreed to accept the waste," the NRC wrote.