Nuclear Waste Coming to Idaho – Christian Schwab
Most Idaho residents are unaware of the nuclear agreements between Idaho and the Department of Energy (DOE), or the ones that Governor Otter is attempting to negotiate. The last agreement allowed the DOE to bring 2 shipments to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) for research purposes. INL is the only Lab specializing in this type of
research. Located between Arco, Idaho Falls and Blackfoot, the INL is 890 acres covering 4 counties, Butte, Bingham, Bonneville, and Jefferson.
The issue was finally addressed in a resolution (RS24776 the last 3 pages) in the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 18th 2016 by Chairman Thompson. Republican and Democrat Legislators expressed their concern with the lack of public input and education. Legislators within the districts contend there was never a problem until 2 former Governors came out against it. Thompson stated his resolution “doesn’t tell Wasden what to do” but argued we must “find a way to move us forward”. Wasden has been negotiating to bring 100 pounds of the latest waste in for research at INL.
One of the former Governors, Phil Batt, is concerned the last shipment would violate his 1995 settlement from the US vs Batt which stated Idaho would be a Nuclear Waste Free State by 2035. Former Governor Cecil Andrus supports Batt in demanding Otter follow the agreement and not give the DOE a waiver to violate the agreement. Most Conservation groups were against the original settlement because they did not think it went far enough. The Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeepers, a non-profit environmental group who fights for keeping Lake Pend Oreille and its subsidiaries drinkable stated, “We were not aware this was happening”.
Idaho was on a course to complete the agreement until an accident occurred on Feb 5, 2014 at the Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico when a fire broke out potentially contaminating the surrounding area and stalling all imports. The fire investigators concluded the fire was due to improperly packaged waste from Los Alamos. The cost of restarting the process is estimated to be around $500 million and would still leave waste in Idaho beyond the 2035 deadline.
Thousands of gallons of radioactive sludge remains in tanks to be disposed of, while Governor Otter attempts to bring more material in, the residents are starting to sound the alarm. As the Waterkeepers also pointed out “It depends also on how the material is being shipped, but rail seems like the logical choice and we will be looking into it”.
Representative Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) voted to kill the resolution stating “We do not know enough about it.” In a vote of 2 to 9 the Committee sent the resolution to the House for a second reading.
In this investigation we look into Idaho’s Nuclear waste facility in Idaho Falls, where a long time employee expressed his dismay with the way the clean-up is going. “Idaho Legislators just had to give us another $1.5 million over the next 5 years to clean up the mess”, and “They have us pulling the waste out of a pit to send it to New Mexico and bringing more in, the worst is from the Military”.
INL insists they need the last 100lbs of Military Waste for research purposes, as no other research is being conducted to deal with it. Conservatives are upset because of the millions of dollars Idaho expended in a 1995 lawsuit US vs Batt. Conservation groups argue the settlement will be breached and Idaho will not be waste free by 2035. Add the fact it will likely be shipped by rail, going over Idaho’s natural water supplies.
In January, former Governor Cecil Andrus continued his fight to keep the last shipment of spent rods from coming to Idaho by threatening a new Federal Lawsuit attempting to force Otter to stop bringing in waste. Otter continues to indicate that cleaning up the Nuclear Waste is still a top priority, but, Idaho also has other priorities.
On the second reading in the House the resolution passed. Only a few Republicans voted against it. Heather Scott said “I voted with the Democrats because I do not think we know enough about it.” Arguments in favor ranged from “It’s the most advanced Lab in the Country” to “It’s a great opportunity for Idaho”.
Residents keep insisting they have not had the opportunity to have public input through our Idaho Legislators or the Feds about the decision to bring the waste into Idaho. This is not the first time the public was left out of the process which directly effects the future of Idaho.
Going forward there are questions which need to be addressed if Nuclear technology is going to remain in Idaho. Is type 4 (Generation IV) Nuclear technology safe enough that we could reuse the waste and boost Idaho’s Power Supply? Is shipping the fuel actually the safest way to remove it from Idaho? Do we insist Otter live up the 1995 agreement and stop the import of waste until we can deal with it safely?