EnergySolutions Inc. was a big winner in federal court Friday, but the Salt Lake City nuclear waste company is still a long way from its goal of bringing low-level radioactive waste from Italy and disposing it in Utah.
Multiple hurdles remain, including a possible court appeal and pending legislation in Congress to ban importation of waste from outside U.S. borders.
Although U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart ruled Friday that a regional oversight group has no authority to stop EnergySolutions from using its Utah site to bury foreign radioactive, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not revived its review of the Italy import request, said commission spokesman David McIntyre.
"You might have something from the commission soon," he said, "but it is not going to be a yea or nay on the license."
Like their counterparts at the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-level Radioactive Waste, the state of Utah and Congress, the NRC's lawyers are studying Stewart's ruling . The judge found Congress never intended to give the compacts power to say what goes into disposal sites not specifically designated for the regional waste groups.
EnergySolutions sought the ruling a year ago after the Northwest Compact said the company was not authorized under a long-standing agreement with the compact to import foreign waste.
Months earlier, the company had asked the NRC for a license to import 20,000 tons of cleanup waste from Italy's dismantled nuclear reactors, to extract usable metals from the waste and dispose of 1,600 tons of leftover at the company's Tooele County disposal site.
Opposing sides in the lawsuit have yet to finalize the paperwork for the case, and once they do, Utah and the 10 other compact states involved have 30 days to appeal.
EnergySolutions indicated earlier this month that it was expecting an appeal, whatever way the court ruled. Company chairman and chief executive officer Steve Creamer told investors that the company has not budgeted revenue from the Italy cleanup.
Other questions the NRC must resolve include what to do about the 11 public hearing requests before them. The state of Utah has requested a hearing. So has the group, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and other anti-nuclear organizations.
More than 2,500 people and organizations commented on the EnergySolutions request, far more than the NRC has ever gotten on an import request.
The commission also has one vacancy, another expected next month and a new chairman, Gregory Jaczko, who has emphasized the importance of openness between the commission and the public.
President Barack Obama is expected to fill the vacancies with Democrats, tilting the commission's political balance from 3-1, with a dominance of Republicans, to 3-2, favoring Democrats.
Friday's ruling allowing EnergySolutions to import radioactive waste from foreign cleanups prompted supporters of the Radioactive Import Deterrence (RID) Act to call for Washington to intervene.
"No one envisioned the scenario that the U.S. would become the world's nuclear garbage dump," added U.S Rep. Jim Matheson, a co-sponsor. "Passing the RID Act would make it clear that other countries must deal with their own waste."
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he hopes congressional Democrats will move on the bill soon.
"The best way to resolve this is with federal legislation," he said, predicting the bill would pass if it came up for a vote.
Jill Sigal of EnergySolutions indicated the legislation would strip the NRC of its jurisdiction over import licenses for low-level waste.
"We believe that the NRC is the appropriate regulatory body to make these decisions," she said.