Utah has agreed to become a defendant in a case brought by EnergySolutions Inc. against a regional organization that oversees low-level radioactive waste, according to papers filed this week in federal court.
EnergySolutions filed suit in May to have a judge rule on whether the company must abide by the limits of the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-level Radioactive Waste. That eight-state nuclear-oversight organization says the company is not permitted to dispose of waste from other nations.
The nuclear-services company contends the compact has no authority over operations at its specialized landfill in Tooele County. It has an application pending before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to bury about 1,600 tons of contaminated waste from Italy's nuclear program in the mile-square landfill about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.
Disposal is a key element of the company's nuclear-waste services, because low-level waste from 36 states has nowhere else to go and other nations are having trouble developing disposal sites of their own. The Tooele County location is not authorized to accept high-level waste, such as spent nuclear fuel.
Utah joined the Northwest compact in 1982 under a plan by Congress to promote regional solutions for low-level waste. And, when EnergySolutions, then called Envirocare of Utah, sought to accept low-level waste in 1991, the state backed the company before the compact.
With the compact's authority now on the line because of the EnergySolutions suit, the state wants to protect its role in the compact. The state's "yes" vote is needed on issues involving the Utah site.
But Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., saying the federal government should step up to the job of controlling foreign waste, directed Utah's compact vote to block foreign waste from the Tooele County site.
"The state being involved in this case makes a lot of sense," said Lisa Roskelley, Huntsman's spokeswoman.
EnergySolutions general counsel Val Christensen noted that, when the state asked to be added as a defendant in the case, "we expressed no objection."
U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart must sign off on the request to add Utah to the case.
Energy-Solutions wants to import 20,000 tons of waste from Italy's nuclear-plant cleanups.
It would process most of the waste in Tennessee. About 1,600 tons would be buriedÂ in Tooele County. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been considering the request since September.