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Huntsman steps up nuclear waste fight

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Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has stepped up the fight to keep low-level nuclear waste from Italy out of Utah.

Huntsman's office announced Wednesday he's directed the state's representative on the Northwest Interstate Low-Level Waste Compact to vote against any proposals for foreign nuclear waste to come into Utah.

That would include EnergySolutions Inc.'s plans to use its Tooele County facility to dispose of what is left over after some 20,000 tons of low-level waste from Italian nuclear plants is processed in Tennessee. That should be about 8 percent, or some 1,600 tons of material.

According to the governor's office, the compact has the authority to halt foreign nuclear waste shipments in the region and Utah has veto power over any such materials coming into the state.

"As I have always emphatically declared, Utah should not be the

world's dumping ground," Huntsman said in a statement, going on to suggest Congress should take similar action.

"Our country has limited space to store even domestic waste and it would be most appropriate to have a federal policy against the importation of foreign nuclear waste. However, as the federal government is slow to adopt such a policy, Utah will lead the way."

In a statement, EnergySolutions said it will go forward with its proposal, which is currently pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. The company make its case at the compact's May 8 meeting.

"EnergySolutions is deeply disappointed that Governor Huntsman has taken this action," the company's statement read, noting the NRC has granted import licenses in the past for waste disposal at the Tooele County site that were also approved by the compact.

"We will continue to pursue the Italian cleanup project which involves the routine disposal of a very small amount of low-level material as part of a clean-up and recycling project that will benefit our Earth's environment," the statement concluded.

The governor has been criticized by opponents of the Italian waste coming to Utah for not taking a stronger stand against the EnergySolutions proposal. Huntsman had said an agreement he signed with the company in 2007 that halted a plan to expand the Tooele dump site limited his ability to act.

But the governor's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said after further review by state attorneys, he decided that since foreign waste was not specifically addressed in the agreement, he could seek a veto of the proposal from the compact.

EnergySolutions spokesman John Ward said the company was not commenting "at this time" on whether it saw the governor's reversal as a violation of the agreement.

Critics of Huntsman's earlier position praised his new stand on Wednesday.

"We're thrilled," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. "He has remained a man of his word who has put the public interests above special interests."

Still, Pierce said, the battle may not be over.

"We need to see what happens at the May 8 compact meeting, and we need to see if EnergySolutions is going to abide by and respect this decision that reflects the will of the people and the governor, or if they're going to fight it," she said.

Roskelley, though, said that the governor "does not think it's good policy for this waste to come here so this should prevent that from happening."

The shipment has already been opposed by Rep. Jim Matheson, D- Utah, who has sponsored legislation along with other Congressmen, including one from Tennessee, that would ban the importation of nuclear waste unless it was originally produced in the U.S., except, for example, U.S. military waste generated abroad. Matheson said Wednesday, "I welcome Gov. Huntsman's decision to join this fight. It's not a partisan issue, but rather about doing what's right for Utah and for America. Rather than be in this predicament, where we have to act on a case-by-case basis, Congress should pass my bill and permanently solve the problem of importing foreign waste."

But Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has said he doesn't see this as a federal issue. Wednesday, his chief of staff, Scott Parker, said, "Rob has always said he will support whatever the S state decides to do."

Contributing: Suzanne Struglinski

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com