Any economic development plan based on bringing more nuclear waste into Idaho likely will not fly with the public, two former Idaho governors said Friday.
Democrat Cecil Andrus and Republican Phil Batt told the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission appointed by Gov. Butch Otter that Idahoans won’t stand for bringing more waste for storage above the Snake River Plain Aquifer, which supplies water to most of southern Idaho. The panel is working on a report on how the state can support the Idaho National Laboratory’s mission as the nation’s leading nuclear power lab.
Batt said he faced a recall and public outcry when he decided to allow Navy waste shipments to resume in early 1995.
Even when he signed the 1995 agreement that set milestones for removing waste, he faced a referendum.
But 62 percent of voters approved his plan that required all waste to be removed from the state in 2035.
Adm. John Grossenbacher, INL director, and others in eastern Idaho have sought to have a discussion about potential interim storage of commercial nuclear waste at the INL. But Batt didn’t give them much hope — based on the 1995 initiative.
“I think if you would have asked the question how many wanted (waste) storage over there, I don’t think you would have gotten 5 percent of the vote,” Batt said.
Despite his and Andrus’ goal to get the waste out, the decision by the Obama administration to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada may frustrate that.
After 2035, Idaho could expect to keep 300 tons of highly radioactive used nuclear fuel rods and dried radioactive waste stored at the INL. The state would get $22 million a year from the federal government if the waste is not removed, beginning in 2035.
The penalty, negotiated as part of the 1995 agreement, seems smaller today.
“It wouldn’t be a real deterrent,” Batt said. “I’m glad it’s in there.”
The two governors voiced a few differences. Andrus flatly opposed any changes in the agreement, while Batt left the door open to changes that don’t alter the deadlines for waste treatment and removal in his agreement.
“I don’t regard it as sacred,” Batt said.
Both acknowledged that the Department of Energy has done a good job meeting waste-removal milestones since the agreement. So far, out of 800 milestones, DOE has met all but five, four of which were about paperwork.
But Andrus raised doubts that DOE would meet the next major milestone: turning 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing liquid nuclear waste into a solid material by the end of the year.
“I’d be the first one to jump up and say prove me wrong,” Andrus said. “Am I skeptical? You bet I am.”
Andrus’ skepticism arises from the closure of the treatment plant at the INL June 16 after a “pressure event” during testing. The plant was scheduled to begin operations this month but now is delayed indefinitely.
The panel also heard from Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Chairman Nathan Small, both of whom opposed bringing new waste into the state.
Small said he helped unload barrels of radioactive waste from Rocky Flats in 1968. He saw barrels break open as they were dumped from trucks into pits.
“We didn’t know we were creating an environment problem for the future,” Small said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484