EnergySolutions applied for licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to import radioactive waste from decommissioned Italian nuclear power plants through the ports of New Orleans and Charleston, South Carolina. The company intends to process the radioactive waste in its facility in Tennessee and transport the remainder to its disposal site in Utah.
EnergySolutions (formerly Envirocare) of Salt Lake City, Utah, submitted applications for licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to import radioactively contaminated materials from Italy and export radioactive waste back to Italy. If the NRC grants this license, EnergySolutions could import up to 20,000 tons of radioactively contaminated wastes such as scrapped components from reactors, fuel fabrication and enrichment facilities from areas in Italy that are “equivalent to U.S. Superfund sites.” The company intends to unload the nuclear waste from the ships in New Orleans and load it on to rail, truck or barge. The waste will then travel from New Orleans to EnergySolutions processing sites at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Kingston, Tennessee or Memphis, Tennessee for incineration and smelting after which the residue will be disposed of at its Clive, Utah facility about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. For any waste that is too radioactive to be disposed of at the company’s Utah facility, EnergySolutions plans to use the export license to ship that waste back to Italy through the port of New Orleans.
The Italian waste will come into the ports via ship and be transported to EnergySolutions processing sites at Oak Ridge and Memphis, Tennessee by truck, rail and barge. The transportation corridors from Italy to New Orleans and from New Orleans to Tennessee will travel through 18 of the 64 Parishes (counties) in the state of Louisiana (Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James, Ascension, Iberville, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Point Coupee, Concordia, Tensas, Madison, East Carroll, and Tangipahoa).
In early February 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published notice of the application for the import and the export licenses and invited public comment. In response to requests from over 50 groups and individuals, the NRC extended the comment period until June 10, 2008. Concurrently, opposition is mounting in Congress. On March 13, 2008, Utah Congressman Jim Matheson introduced a bill (H. R. 5632), with bipartisan cosponsors, to prohibit the NRC from authorizing the importing of foreign-generated low-level nuclear waste.
The Italian Nuclear Waste will consist of scrap and contaminated components from nuclear reactors, fuel fabrication and enrichment facilities, fuel cycle facilities, research facilities, material licensees and facilities equivalent to US Superfund sites. The radioactive waste will also originate from remediation, decontamination, decommissioning, maintenance, equipment upgrades and routine operational activities at radioactive facilities as well as radioactive contaminated pressure vessels, associated piping and contaminated construction and demolition debris. The waste will consist of contaminated metals, graphite, sludge, filters, dry activity material (wood, paper, and plastics), liquids (aqueous and organic based fluids) and ion exchange resins.
The nuclear waste will be processed by incineration, induction melting, smelting, compaction, size reduction, volume reduction and recycling for beneficial reuse. A significant amount of the material will be recycled and formed into shield blocks to be reused. Material that meets domestic license conditions for unrestricted release may be released.
Disposal of radioactive waste will be performed at the EnergySolutions Clive, Utah disposal facility. Materials that do not meet license conditions for the Clive, Utah facility will be returned to the generator in Italy. A license to export the unacceptable radioactive Italian waste back to the generators in Italy has also been applied for. The radioactive waste material will be transported by Rail and Truck from Tenseness to Clive, Utah.
Italy wants to export its nuclear waste because following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, its voters overwhelmingly decided to shut down existing nuclear plants and impose a moratorium on new ones. Since that time, Italy has been seeking a place to dispose of its stockpiled radioactive waste. However, the Italian government has encountered fierce opposition to plans to build waste disposal sites within its borders and controversy over its efforts to export its nuclear waste to other European countries.
Accidents involving barges, trains and trucks hauling industrial material are an all to common occurrence here in the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River. The sinking of a barge containing nuclear waste or the derailment of a train carrying nuclear waste would present dangers to human health and economic costs that are too great.
A ship, barge, truck or train transporting radioactive waste can become a dirty bomb if attacked. Such an attack will distribute radioactive waste from an explosion and fire over a large area. If such an event occurred in a metropolitan area along the transportation route such as New Orleans, the resulting cleanup cost, lost wages and lost business could add up to billions of dollars. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission who is evaluating the license applications has not required EnergySolutions to provide information on terrorism or insurance necessary to cover terrorist attacks.
When a reactor is decommissioned, a large volume of the waste will be Class A waste with substantial volumes of Class B, Class C and small volumes of greater than Class C waste. Only Class A waste can go to the Clive, Utah facility. It appears that Class B, Class C and Greater than Class C waste, which are more concentrated than Class A waste, will be processed at the Tennessee facility and suddenly become Class A waste that can be received by the Clive, Utah facility.
The citizens of the United States are being asked to accept nuclear waste that Italy does not want to deal with.
The application by EnergySolutions to import Low and Intermediate-Level Radioactive Waste from Italy appears to be only a foot in the door. Once the Licenses are approved the Licenses could be amended, with little public review, to accept waste from other European countries.
EnergySolutions is proposing to beneficially reuse 7,000 tons of the radioactive contaminated metal from Italy to produce shielding material. EnergySolutions currently has customers for shield blocks in Japan. EnergySolutions existing contract is to fabricate 500 shield blocks (@ 10 tons each). The EnergySolutions has a option under the contract to provide up to 350 additional shield blocks and anticipates using imported material from Italy to fulfill this contract. In order to receive sufficient radioactive contaminated metal from Italy to fabricate the shield blocks, large quantities of radioactive materials will be required to be imported. The current application states that 7,000 tons of radioactive contaminated metals will be imported from Italy. It will take 3,500 tons of the metal portion of the imported waste to fabricate the shield blocks covered under the contract option. This does not take into account the portions of radioactive waste removed from the metal. This process seems to be an economic driver for more than one third of the Italian Nuclear waste to be imported by EnergySolutions.
The application for a license to import Italian Nuclear Waste lacks information on how the waste acceptance guidelines will be required to be met in Italy before shipment of the waste to the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff questioned EnergySolutions on this and a large number of other topics. EnergySolutions responded that an Italian committee would be formed, which would include one EnergySolutions representative. The decision if waste is unacceptable should be made in Italy prior to shipment of the unacceptable waste to New Orleans or Charleston, followed by transport to Tennessee then back to New Orleans or Charleston on its way back to Italy. The Italian committee is not mentioned in the License application and thus is not an official part of the License application.
During the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review process of the EnergySolutions applications, a large number of questions were asked of EnergySolutions by the NRC in order to clarify and define various aspects of the applications. These responses are not officially in the application and will not be requirements set forth in the License conditions. Such a process that does not require the information to be defined in the License is inappropriate.
EnergySolutions-formerly known as Envirocare-is the largest nuclear waste treatment and disposal company in the U.S. The license applications, supporting documents, and the submitted comments can be viewed on the NRC website (www.nrc.gov) by searching in the electronic library (ADAMS) for license applications numbers IW023 and XW013 under the docket # 11005711.