Big Waste

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How comfortable are you with the idea that the metric by which we determine how nuclear waste is disposed of could be campaign contributions? A Utah-based company seeking a contract to import nuclear waste for processing at their facility is throwing money at key members of Congress in an effort to advance their interests, over the objections of environmental groups.

EnergySolutions, the company that wants to import the nuclear waste and dispose of it in the Utah desert, knows how to get attention in Washington:

Since 2005, the company's political action committee, executives and investors have poured nearly $400,000 into congressional campaigns through January, up from about $40,000 in the four previous years, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The company's growing influence in Washington will be tested this year as it tries to kill a bill that would ban the importation of low-level radioactive foreign waste, which would be disposed at its dump in western Utah's desert.

"I'm sure this means many millions of dollars to them, so I'm sure they're going to be working hard to stop it," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the bill's co-sponsor.

The company's CEO has given tens of thousands of dollars, much of it Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who is apparently a fan of things nuclear. Meanwhile environmental activists are opposing a situation where the US becomes a dumping ground for the world's nuclear waste and puts people living near these facilities at greater risk in the event of an accident.

Several years ago I was living in southeastern Utah in a town that had once been the home of a uranium mining operation. Later it was the site of a Superfund cleanup -- but not before residents of the town, then unaware of the health risks, had been encouraged to build their homes on the old mining sites and let their kids play in the uranium tailings. Rates of cancer and particularly childhood leukemia in the town ran significantly higher than the national average. Suffice it to say that Utah residents have suffered before because of the nuclear power industry and it's unfortunate that the realities of the campaign money game may expose them to greater risk yet again.