Importing Foreign Nuclear Waste for Disposal Should Not Be U.S. Policy (Sen. Bart Gordon)

Right now, there is nothing to stop the United States from becoming the world’s nuclear dumping ground. Disposal of nuclear waste is becoming a commercial enterprise. One application pending with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would allow a private company to import 20,000 tons of waste from decommissioned Italian nuclear reactors and bring the material into the United States for processing and disposal.

We have a finite amount of space in the United States for disposal of domestic nuclear waste. Importing foreign nuclear waste takes up valuable space and leaves the United States responsible for monitoring additional radioactive material for years to come. It’s simply not in the United States’ best interest to dispose of foreign nuclear waste when we have so many challenges facing disposal of domestic waste.

When I began looking into this issue, I discovered that no one is looking at the big picture -- the national policy implications of importing foreign waste for disposal. The NRC looks only at whether an application is technically correct and in line with existing law; whether or not this is good national policy is outside the scope of what the NRC considers.

That’s why I, along with Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), introduced a bill to prohibit the importation of low-level radioactive waste from foreign countries unless the waste originated in the U.S. The bill does allow the president to waive the prohibition on importing foreign waste if he determines that importation would meet an important national or international policy goal, such as research.

Disposing of nuclear waste is a challenge faced all over the world, and it is not going to get easier anytime soon. Japan, Canada, Mexico and Australia are among the countries that don’t have adequate capacity for disposing of their waste.

If we open the door to becoming the world’s nuclear garbage dump, there will be many countries only too happy to come in.