Our take: According to Kevin Richerts blog, expect a long and emotional debate if there are efforts to renegotiate the 1995 settlement negotiated by Gov. Phil Batt.
Come 2035, Idaho will resume its battle with the U.S. Department of Energy about nuclear waste stored above the Snake River Plain Aquifer in eastern Idahos Arco desert.
Thats the deadline for removing spent nuclear fuel, most of it from the U.S. Navys nuclear fleet, along with high-level radioactive material from the Idaho National Laboratory.
As things now stand, its not going anywhere. The Obama administration, in a political nod to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., shut down what was to have been the nations nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. So under the terms of a court-ordered settlement then-Gov. Phil Batt negotiated in 1995, Idaho will begin assessing penalties of $60,000 a day. Yes, those are inflated dollars. True, not a dime flows into the state coffers without congressional approval. And it is a fact that Uncle Sam may simply pull this money out of INLs budget.
Idahos leverage lies elsewhere in the Batt Agreement. For instance, if the Navy can no longer ship its spent fuel to Idaho, where will it go? Moreover, the federal courts would be authorized to enforce the rights, obligations and requirements assigned by this agreement ... pursuant to all legal and equitable remedies available to the courts of the United States, including, but not limited to, use of the courts contempt powers.
Enter Gov. Butch Otters Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission. For the better part of a year, the LINE Commission has been exploring a way out of the impasse. First it displayed a remarkable tin ear by suggesting that Idaho import spent fuel from closed commercial reactors as a way to attract additional DOE investment at INL.
That overshadowed the reports real mission: With federal budgets tight, DOE is under pressure to save money. A national lab unwilling to deal on its waste settlement agreement could see much of its research portfolio shipped off to larger, more politically connected DOE installations in New Mexico, Tennessee or South Carolina. Given INLs economic footprint, the loss of this lab would be felt even 500 miles away in Idaho through plummeting state tax revenues and its partnership with the University of Idaho.
Just the same, the door on changing the Batt Agreement slammed shut earlier this month.
First, former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus the governor who posted state cops on the border to block nuclear fuel shipments in the early 1990s came out swinging: Nothing in (the LINE Commission report) warrants any amendment for any reason to the Batt Agreement of 1995 negotiated between the state of Idaho, the Department of Energy and the United States and then ratified by the people of Idaho in a statewide vote. Then Batt weighed in: I do not support modification of my nuclear waste agreement nor extending the deadlines specified therein. I doubt that there would be more than a small percentage of Idahoans who would vote to do so, if the question were put before the electorate.
You could almost hear the INL community processing through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
It would be one thing to confront Andrus or Batt separately. Together, these two are credible where others including Otter are not. They have the battle scars to prove it.
Where can DOE, INL or the LINE Commission show what Idaho will get in return for loosening the terms of the Batt Agreement? Where are the advanced nuclear reactor projects those that either burn up spent fuel or produce hydrogen as a byproduct? Or the major fuel cycle programs aimed at reducing the volume of commercial waste building up across the country?
In an era of austerity, Batt says, I doubt these would be forthcoming.
The LINE Commissions final report is due early next year. If its smart, the panel will drop the ridiculous idea of importing spent fuel into Idaho.
There wont be a new nuke deal in Idaho. DOE had better learn to live with the old one.