The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it doesn't have the authority to keep foreign radioactive waste from being imported into the United States just because the material is from another country.
A Tennessee congressman says that's all the more reason to pass his bill giving the NRC that power. Without it, Rep. Bart Gordon said Tuesday, 20,000 tons of Italian nuclear waste could be brought to Kingston, Tenn., for processing. About 1,600 tons of material left after processing would be shipped to Utah for disposal.
"Our country is the only country in the world disposing of other country's radioactive trash," Rep. Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, said in a news release. "The very agency responsible for regulating this waste has stated in no uncertain terms that they cannot prevent other countries from dumping their waste in our country. The bill I authored would change this, effective immediately."
The NRC wrote in an April 9 letter to Reps. Gordon and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, 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 the waste out.
The lawmakers' bill would ban importation of low-level radioactive waste unless it originated here or accepting it serves a strategic national purpose.
Although Rep. Gordon's release said 80 members of Congress have expressed support for his bill, it has not been heard in committee.
The site in Clive, Utah, 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 percent of its remaining capacity.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he doesn't want the waste coming to Utah, but EnergySolutions is challenging in federal court the state's ability to use an interstate compact to keep the waste out.
Associated Press reporter Brock Verkagis and staff writer Judy Walton contributed to this story.