On Feb. 6, the Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission released its final recommendations to the public after a presentation to a joint meeting of the House Energy, Environment and Technology Committee and the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. You can find the commission's report and executive summary at LINE.idaho.gov. You can also read all public comment received by the commission on its website.
There is good news. In the December draft report, the commission's Technology Subcommittee, chaired by the CEO of the Battelle Energy Alliance, recommended the state endorse a "pilot U.S. regional interim storage facility" for nuclear waste coming to the Idaho National Laboratory. This recommendation was not in the final report. Furthermore, the full commission backed off its original effort to suggest changes to the 1995 Settlement Agreement, which is Idaho's central protection against new nuclear waste and its recourse if the federal government doesn't remove waste that is already here. Those changes could have included lifting Idaho's ban on commercial radioactive waste.
These victories no doubt rested in part on public comments, pressure from the Snake River Alliance and the clear message sent by former governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus that changes to the 1995 Settlement Agreement were not needed. The Snake River Alliance thanks all members of the public who wrote comments that called for protecting Idaho from more radioactive waste. The LINE Commission report also explicitly supported cleanup at the INL, something the alliance fully supports as well.
But the final report also leaves plenty of room for concern. It suggests Idaho "exercise leadership" as the U.S. formulates federal energy and nuclear waste management policy and, more specifically, focuses on an "opportunity" to "capitalize on nuclear waste policy formulation and implementation."
The report also suggests there is a need to re-examine Idaho's ban on the importation of commercial spent fuel. Much of the impetus for the desire to re-evaluate spent fuel importation is based on the notion, fostered by a high-ranking Department of Energy official who spoke to the LINE Commission last summer, that interim storage of nuclear waste represents a "gigantic industrial opportunity." But that notion is wildly inaccurate. The utilities that wanted to open a 40,000 metric ton storage site in Utah projected it would create a mere 45 jobs.
The only way spent nuclear fuel might create jobs is if it were reprocessed, which is a dangerous, dirty, unproductive endeavor. Cost estimates for addressing the contamination from INL's old reprocessor ran to $2.5 billion in 1997, though the cost could be half as much. That is an opportunity of sorts, but probably not the kind most Idahoans want.
Gov. Otter announced on March 6 that the LINE Commission would continue in the form of "LINE 2.0." But how the commission will be funded and whom it will specifically include remains unclear.
The governor believes the commission's continued work is essential to INL's future in the midst of federal policy confusion about how and where to permanently dispose of commercial radioactive waste.
The original commission's final report indicates there may be an effort to continue to scrutinize the 1995 Settlement Agreement, and that changes to the agreement could include allowing commercial nuclear waste into Idaho. Idahoans should be wary that LINE 2.0 could press for Idaho's nuclear future to be lined in more nuclear waste.
Please join us in sending a clear message to the governor and his LINE 2.0 Commission that Idaho is too great for more nuclear waste. You can sign our online petition on this topic at www.snakeriveralliance.org.
Liz Woodruff is the executive director of Snake River Alliance.