DENVER -- How much authority the state of Utah has to keep certain low-level radioactive waste from being shipped to a private site was at the heart of arguments Thursday before a federal appeals court.
Attorneys for Utah and an interstate compact that regulates the waste argued before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law creating the compact gives the state and other members broad authority. They asked the judges to reverse a Utah federal court decision saying the Northwest Interstate Compact can't block EnergySolutions Inc. from shipping in low-level radioactive waste from Italy.
EnergySolutions wants to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy. The waste would be processed in Tennessee and about 1,600 tons would be disposed of in Utah.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman used the state's veto power on the compact to try to keep the foreign waste out.
"Utah's concern is that once Italian waste is allowed to come in, waste can come from anywhere in the world," said Denise Chancellor of the Utah attorney general's office.
Congress granted the compact authority to exclude out-of-state waste, said Kristen Mitchell with the Washington state attorney general's office. She said the law's language is clear, despite the trial court's stance to the contrary.
However, Mike Lee, representing the Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions, said Congress approved the interstate compacts for handling low-level radioactive waste with conditions. He said the company's private facility 70 miles west of Salt Lake City was never a regional facility established under the compact and isn't under the group's authority.
There's no evidence that Congress intended to allow states to shut down commercial facilities, Lee said.
But Judge Timothy Tymkovich said the language in the law approving compacts is "pretty broad."
The judges didn't indicate when they will rule on the case.
A 1980 law amended five years later allowed states to form compacts and develop new regional facilities for low-level radioactive waste to more evenly distribute waste sites across the country and prevent some states from becoming national dumping grounds.