Firm wants to process 20,000 tons of nuclear waste in Tenn.
By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(AP)-- A Utah nuclear waste company has proposed bringing 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive garbage from Italy to Tennessee for processing, burning and recycling, then sending what's left to Utah for burial.
"This is a pretty routine import license request for us," EnergySolutions Inc. spokesman Greg Hopkins said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Still, this marks the largest volume of foreign waste - some 1 million cubic feet - that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever considered for processing and disposal in this country.
Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee, considers the proposal a "terrible idea" and is urging the NRC to deny the company's license application.
The Murfreesboro Democrat said the United States already has problems treating and disposing of domestically generated nuclear waste. "We should be working on solving this problem at home before taking dangerous waste from around the world," Gordon said in a statement.
He also worries some of the Italian waste will be buried in Tennessee.
"That is incorrect," Hopkins insisted. "There will be no waste disposed of in Tennessee."
Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., also have written the NRC over concerns the imported waste could exceed federal radiation limits.
But Hopkins said the material will be thoroughly characterized in Italy by an EnergySolutions team before it leaves that country.
"So we will know exactly what the materials are. We will know that they all meet the regulatory requirements in the U.S., including the license requirements both in Tennessee and in Utah," Hopkins said.
EnergySolutions Inc. says the waste will be mostly paper, plastic, wood, metal and ion-exchange resins from shuttered nuclear power plants. "Some of these (plants) were built on American design, so it will be the kind of materials that we deal with on a regular basis out of U.S. nuclear power plants," Hopkins said.
The company has proposed bringing in the waste through the ports of New Orleans or Charleston, S.C., then shipping it by truck, rail or barge to its processing facilities in Oak Ridge, formerly owned by Duratek, for incineration and metal recycling some 25 miles west of Knoxville.
EnergySolutions proposes to import about 200,000 cubic feet of material annually for five years, beginning next spring.
"Only a small fraction of the material imported will be disposed in the U.S.," according to information from the company. "Over 33 percent of all the material will be recycled."
The recycled metal would be melted and formed into radiation shielding blocks used by the nuclear industry. Most of the rest would be burned.
Only 8 percent of the total imported material will be disposed of at EnergySolutions landfill in Clive, Utah. By one estimate, that would be less than 1,600 tons.
The import application was filed Sept. 14. The NRC review takes about six months, including a 30-day public comment period.