Should other countries be allowed to store their nuclear waste in the United States? A controversial new proposal by EnergySolutions seeks to import low-level nuclear waste from Italy and store it at a Utah facility. During today's OnPoint, EnergySolutions CEO Steve Creamer makes the case for why his company should be granted approval for the project. Creamer reacts to legislation sponsored by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) that would ban the import of foreign radioactive waste. He also discusses Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's (R) plan to direct his state's representative on the board of the Northwest's nuclear waste council to vote against EnergySolutions' proposal -- a move that could undermine EnergySolutions' chances of moving forward with the project.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Steve Creamer, CEO of EnergySolutions. Steve, thanks for coming on the show.
Steve Creamer: Thanks for inviting me.
Monica Trauzzi: Steve, your company is seeking to transport low-level nuclear waste from a company in Italy and dispose of it in Utah. The proposal has gotten a lot of negative attention recently. But for those who aren't familiar I sort of want to backtrack and have you introduce this proposal, what it's all about and why you think all this negative attention has come out.
Steve Creamer: OK. I'll try to do that. And, to start with, as we look at it we think the number one issue in America today and the world today is energy security and global warming. And so we firmly believe that nuclear power and more nuclear power is critical, and it's really the only realistic, you know, we like wind, we like solar. We think every new biodiesel, we think every renewable is important, but we also recognize that for large base loads, that today the only noncarbon source of energy is nuclear. And, of course, when you look at nuclear energy and you say, OK, it's not just the United States. It is the world. The world is very flat. When you look at energy security, what's causing our oil prices to go up isn't increased demand in the U.S., its increased demand in China and India. The same way with global warming. I mean, when you really look at the emerging nations that must have more and more energy to support their economies, you have to have nuclear energy and it's the only way it's going to work if we're going to protect the Earth from global warming. And so, EnergySolutions is a company that works on the tough part of nuclear energy, which is managing the waste, because when you look at nuclear energy it really is a pretty jazzy subject. It's clean. It uses a very little part of it, but the waste issues are always the biggest. And so, today what we're talking about is low-level waste. We're not talking about spent nuclear fuel. I mean, for example, Italy's spent nuclear fuel is headed for France to be recycled and reprocessed in France, the same way that Japan sends a large amount of their high-level waste to England in order to have it recycled and taken care of over there. What we're talking about is low, low-level waste, which is the clothing that someone may have worn in a power plant, you know the Tyvek clothing. We're talking about metals that have come out of the plant that can be melted down and recycled. We're talking about resins out of water treatment plants that have collected some radio nuclei's, but it's all low level waste, similar to exactly the same stuff that we take here in the U.S. And what we've try to do at EnergySolutions is try to be a solution for our flat world, to be, you know, as we look at will we do, when you have special facilities and special things that you can do, and in our Bear Creek facility in Tennessee and our disposal facility in Utah, we do things that can be done in very few places throughout the world. We do it in a very safe, a very technically sound, a very scientific way, and we're one of the few. And we think that it's important that we support not only the U.S., but to a small point, the world, in trying to solve these issues so that we solve energy security and global warming.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. So, this issue is facing some negative attention in Congress, so much so that Congressmen Gordon and Matheson have sponsored legislation that would ban the importation of foreign radioactive waste. Are you speaking to legislators at this point trying to make them understand your points here? What's your take on this congressional action?
Steve Creamer: Well, certainly we've talked to people and talked to them about what our point is and what we're trying to do. We think what we're doing is being good stewards of the Earth and we find, as we talk to a lot of people, that they understand that. EnergySolutions is never going to bring wholesale, low-level radioactive waste into America. What we're talking about doing is being able to use our recycling and our reduction facilities. You know, actually 8 percent of the waste that comes in is all that's going to end up being disposed of. I mean 8 percent of the volume is all that ends up being disposed of, of the material that comes in. And that's the only thing we're trying to do, is make use of the recycling and the reduction facilities that we have in order to do something that's good, to be good stewards of the Earth. And that's ...
Monica Trauzzi: But why should the U.S. be a dumping ground for other countries waste?
Steve Creamer: We don't believe it is a dumping ground. I know, when you look around the world you say, OK, the computer sitting on your desk and there, when it's recycled, where does it go? Does it go to the U.S.? No. It goes to China or it goes to Taiwan or goes to Thailand and there they recycle it. Well, there's hazardous waste in that. That material does not come back to the U.S., it stays there. What we're talking about doing is supporting an industry where we can do things that no one else can do. Just like China can recycle our computers like we can't do here and they take a small amount of byproducts left there. We're talking about taking the byproducts off of doing something that's good to help energy security and global warming and what we're trying to do and support nuclear energy worldwide.
Monica Trauzzi: If this project were to be approved, would it set a precedent for other European nations and might the U.S. then have to face more and more of this?
Steve Creamer: No, not really. I mean, you know, there's very few of these facilities in the world. I mean two or three. I mean we're not talking 15 or 20; we're talking two or three in the world. And it's been going on for many, many years. Canadian waste has come into our Bear Creek facilities. It's been recycled there. We've got metals today from the U.K. there that are being recycle than being melted down into reusable shield blocks that we then sell, you know, still have contamination on them, but we then sell those shield blocks to Japan. And so these types of materials have historically moved around and there's no precedence being set. I mean, as I said before, high-level waste has been moved between countries to be handled. Small amounts of low-level waste have been moved and there's no precedence being set by this at all, other than it's been going on for many, many years.
Monica Trauzzi: But should we be using the finite amount of space that we have here in the U.S.? This is something that Governor Huntsman has said.
Steve Creamer: Right.
Monica Trauzzi: He said we have a finite amount of space in the U.S., why should we be giving up this space to the waste that another country is producing?
Steve Creamer: Well, in America we've done a really, really good job of management of our low-level waste and it's basically EnergySolutions that's done it. The previous company was called Envirocare of Utah. We've done a great job of it. We have enough capacity in our facility in Utah that we could take every bit of radioactive waste that's left to be taken care of, including decommissioning all 104 reactors that currently exist in the U.S. We have enough capacity to handle all of that waste, plus more. And we're talking about a very, very small amount of foreign waste that we would ever bring in. I mean it's minuscule in comparison to the overall, I mean for example, the Italian waste. We take in, on an average, 1,500 to 1,600 railcars a year of radioactive waste out of that facility. We're talking eight from Italy, or six from Italy, a total of six cars a year from Italy for five years versus 16 or 1700 cars a year that we bring in from around America.
Monica Trauzzi: And Utah Governor Huntsman has come out strong against this proposal and some are describing it as the knockout blow because what he said is that he's going to instruct his representative on the board of the region's Nuclear Waste Council to vote against this project. Does that mean it's over? Are you going to withdraw the licensing request once that vote is taken on May 8?
Steve Creamer: We're studying and trying to understand exactly what authority the compacts have over our facilities. We haven't made a final decision yet. We will, in the next few days, of exactly what we we're going to do. We think the governor's position was unprecedented in what he stepped out and did. We think that the Constitution protects interstate commerce and we think that there's some things there that need to be evaluated and determined and then we'll make a decision of what we're going to do after we get that review completed.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you see any net benefit to the U.S. for allowing this project to continue?
Steve Creamer: Yeah, it's the world burns up from global warming will it just be Italy or will it be Italy and the U.S. both? I mean I think what we're trying to do is be good stewards of the Earth and state lines were drawn, I mean is Italy waste any different than New Jersey waste or California waste? I mean how do you draw lines?
Monica Trauzzi: It's not our waste though.
Steve Creamer: Is New Jersey's waste Utah's waste?
Monica Trauzzi: No, but that's part of the same country. We're talking about a different country here.
Steve Creamer: I think there's lines, I mean there's lines, that's true. And I think that what we're trying to do, is it a controversial issue? Yes. We believe what we're trying to do is be good stewards of the earth and we think that our proposal does that and we think what we're doing, every country works back and forth with each other when you have good facilities. When France has facilities that they can help us out with on the nuclear side they do it. Same way we think when we have facilities that can help out, that we should be able to do the same thing back and forth.
Monica Trauzzi: If you were granted approval, when what this whole process began? How quickly would we be moving waste over to the U.S.?
Steve Creamer: Oh, it would be months. I mean it wouldn't be years, but it would be months out and I would say it's not going to happen very fast now, under any circumstance.
Monica Trauzzi: Were you anticipating the level of unease that has ...
Steve Creamer: No.
Monica Trauzzi: ... come about?
Steve Creamer: Because there's been numerous licenses like this issued in the past without anyone even commenting on them. So, obviously, we were surprised.
Monica Trauzzi: So then why has this been so controversial?
Steve Creamer: Well, we think that there was some kind of backroom things done by a competitor from another nation that kind of got things heightened up and brought to everyone's attention, because there's been, if you go back and check the NRC history, NRC does a great job of making sure what's done is scientific and safe. They really do a good job and they're the ones who are really, should be the ones who are able to say, "OK, this is something that is safe and technically OK to do." They've done a great job of that. They've approved several of them in the past and without any controversy at all. And so, yes, we were surprised.
Monica Trauzzi: So, then should Congress have the right to sort of override an NRC decision with the type of legislation that's being proposed?
Steve Creamer: Well, obviously, Congress is the policy board of the nation and we think that it should be made on sound technical and scientific decision rather than on emotional decisions, but, you know, that's Congress's prerogative if they want to.
Monica Trauzzi: And final question here, EnergySolutions is aggressively donating to campaigns of key energy committee members in Congress. Are you hoping that you're going to be able to sway members to stay on your side?
Steve Creamer: It has nothing to do with Italy. I mean Italy wasn't even thought of until a very short time ago. We support nuclear energy and we support candidates that support nuclear energy. I'm very pleased that all three candidates for president today support nuclear energy. I think it's just fantastic because if we don't use it we're going to be in very sad shape in this country.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. Well, thank you for coming on the show.
Steve Creamer: Thank you, I appreciate it very much.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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