This was a vote to suspend the usual House rules and pass H.R. 515, prohibiting the importation of certain low-level radioactive waste into the United States. Certain exceptions were made for radioactive waste that was being sent to a federal government or military facility. The bill was prompted by the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was considering the importation from Italy and permanent disposition at a site in Utah of 20,000 tons of low-level nuclear waste.
Rep. Gordon (D-TN) was leading support for the bill. He claimed that, if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission actually imports the material, it “would be the largest importation of foreign waste ever.” Gordon also said that “The United States stands alone as the only country in the world that imports other countries' radioactive waste for permanent disposal. Other countries are reading the signs that the U.S. is poised to become a nuclear dumping ground. Permit applications are also pending for the importation of Brazilian and Mexican waste. Foreign waste threatens the capacity that we have set aside in this country for the waste generated by our domestic industries. It is critical that Congress protect that capacity by prohibiting these imports.”
Rep. Matheson (D-UT) also supported the legislation. He claimed the bill was needed to fill what he called a “gap” in federal policy regarding the importation of low-level radioactive waste. He said this gap was created because “(I)t just wasn't conceived that we would even take (nuclear) waste from other countries.” Matheson noted that Utah was opposing the importation of the waste, but that federal courts had thus far ruled that the state did not have the authority to stop the shipment. He argued that “this issue ought to be addressed by Congress.”
Rep Stearns (R-FL) opposed the bill. He said the U.S. needs to “revitalize our nuclear energy (industry). Instead, we're talking about this bill (which . . . is going to hurt businesses that are trying to create jobs and promote economic growth.” He noted that the bill “does not focus on high-level radioactive waste, but rather . . . the lowest of lowest levels of radioactive waste.” He then cited testimony by officials of the General Accountability Office that low level nuclear waste disposal capacity “is simply not a problem.” Stearns went on to argue that the bill “would prevent U.S. companies from competing in the global marketplace by restraining trade in this very low-level waste.”
Stearns said that low level nuclear “should not frighten us once we understand this is the same kind of waste that you find in a home smoke detector . . . I want American companies and American workers to participate fully in the international nuclear renaissance . . . This is an anti-jobs and anti-trade bill. It would simply ban Americans from the marketplace . . . In addition to restricting the ability of U.S. companies to bid on foreign contracts, this bill may prevent U.S. companies in the future from working cooperatively with foreign companies on other nuclear projects.”
The legislation passed by a vote of 309-112. Two hundred and forty-seven Democrats and sixty-two Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and eleven Republicans and one Democrat voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed and sent to the Senate legislation that generally prohibited the importation of low-level radioactive waste.