Nuclear Waste: Appealing or Appalling?
February 27th, 2009
Energy Solutions is asking for state backing in order to import Italian nuclear waste in exchange for donating half of the subsequent profits to the state budget. Utah Stories separates the facts from the rhetoric.
by Kellen McKaffee
The proposal, dubbed "indecent" by opponents, has been met with widespread public disapproval including a vow by Governor Jon Huntsman to veto any legislation that allows the company to proceed with its plan.
Rep. Jim Matheson is vocally opposed to the proposal calling it "appalling." He is currently co-sponsoring federal legislation to ban the importation of all foreign nuclear waste.
Proponents of the deal, including many Utah State legislators, say the waste is no different than the waste currently handled by the company and that the state could use any extra money it can get right now.
Christine Watkins, (D-Price), exemplifies both sides of this heated debate saying, "I campaigned against them [Energy Solutions], but after seeing their facility I thought, I don't see the big deal." Despite noting that 100% of the multitude of emails she has received from her constituents is against their current offer, Watkins has yet to take a final stance.
appeal to import foreign nuclear waste.
Although repugnant to most on face, the deal may have some merit. Utah Stories spoke with Vanessa Pierce of HEAL (Healthy Environment Alliance) of Utah and Mark Walker, Director of Media Relations at Energy Solutions (ES). Below is a paraphrased summary of the arguments. We hope this helps our readers decide for themselves where they stand.
Both Sides of the Debate
HEAL claim: This is just the tip of the iceberg. If we let foreign waste in now, there will be no way to cap it in the future. Energy Solutions CEO Steve Creamer is a businessman, why should we trust him?
ES rebuttal: We are willing to have a restrictive deed put on our property to prevent us from exceeding the proposed volume or extending the project beyond the proposed 10 years. This is the most rigid guarantee legally possible. Also, when Steve Creamer took over the company he voluntarily rescinded the right to store much "hotter" waste then the original charter permitted.
HEAL claim: Utah should not become the world's nuclear dumping ground. Countries that produce waste should be responsible for disposing of it. No other country in the world accepts foreign nuclear waste.
ES rebuttal: The deal would only allow the importation of a tiny fraction of the world's nuclear waste. After 10 years we would agree to never import international waste again. We need a prototype to position ourselves as the world leader in nuclear waste disposal and we have facilities in Europe and Asia to handle international waste.
HEAL claim: Foreign nuclear waste is dangerous and will pose a threat to the people of Utah and its environment for centuries.
ES rebuttal: If we don't import international waste to fill this space, it will be filled with the exact same category of nuclear waste from domestic sources. Also, the waste we handle is in the least dangerous category, class A. We have won awards for safety and from environmental groups for the way we handle waste. People should visit our facility before deciding.
HEAL claim: Energy Solutions is attempting to buy off the people of Utah. Over the past year they have given over two million dollars to the state legislature. We should not allow Energy Solutions to control the purse strings of our state budget. Establishing a dependence on nuclear waste money is a dangerous choice.
ES rebuttal: We are trying to be responsible corporate citizens, and we care about the people of Utah, especially those who need the resources the most in tough economic times. Also, it is our constitutional right to donate to politicians and lobby our government.
HEAL claim: Energy Solutions is attempting to subvert the authority of the Northwest Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, a governing body that regulates the storage and transfer of nuclear waste among member states. The company's lawsuit is an attempt to take away the sovereign right of the people of Utah to regulate nuclear waste.
ES rebuttal: The compact does not apply to us in the first place. Federal Judge Ted Stewart agrees. He has initially ruled that our company is not a "regional disposal facility," which could put us outside the jurisdiction of the compact. We are the most highly regulated industry in the country and we religiously adhere to an overlapping array of rules and regulations.
Who Do We Believe?
Perhaps more powerful than the logical arguments being put forth by HEAL, are the emotional, intuitive, and even visceral reactions to Energy Solutions' proposal. Ask anyone on the street if nuclear waste should be imported from Italy and they will likely give a quick "no way." Put another way, like should we accept a negligible amount of garbage from Italy for billions of dollars to fund our children's schools? The answer would probably be more like, "sure."
Many of the negative articles and comments in this debate center on the appearance of CEO Steve Creamer in a series of television commercials detailing the benefits of the proposal. According to protesters interviewed, these ads did more harm than good, coming off as deceptive and manipulative, rather than informative and honest.
At the rally, at times seeming more theatrical than political, Creamer was attacked personally and depicted as a scary villain, inciting boos and hisses from the crowd. Many of the people interviewed believe the deal is secret, even though the company has made it exceedingly public. The offer to donate half of the profits to the state has even backfired politically, becoming the source of the main rallying cry against the company; Utah is not for sale!
Nuclear power is a large part of the current energy landscape and will not be going away anytime soon. Proponents say nuclear power is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Opponents argue that it is dangerous and generates deadly waste that is impossible to dispose of. Certainly, nuclear power produces three things in abundance: energy, waste, and controversy. This debate is only the tip of the iceberg.