The Snake River Alliance and the group I represent, the Partnership for Science and Technology, view nuclear energy from very different perspectives.
SRA has long opposed nuclear energy research conducted at Idaho National Laboratory even when the goal is to reduce risk and improve safety. PST, on the other hand, sees nuclear energy as an accepted technology that generates 24-7 baseload power without contributing greenhouse gasses. Nuclear energy is not without its issues, but that is what science, engineering and research are for, to advance and improve technologies.
Conflicting perspectives can lead to discussion and debate allowing informed people to draw their own conclusions from different information sources. The problem comes when one side irresponsibly engages in exaggeration, misinformation and distortion. And that brings me to the April 26 Guest Opinion written by SRA’s interim executive director, Wendy Wilson.
Wilson argues that Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was right to block 200 pounds of commercial nuclear fuel slated for research due to DOE’s penchant for missing unrelated cleanup deadlines. “The DOE has failed to meet countless deadlines to clean up the nuclear contamination that is already here.”
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Wilson is clearly citing the DOE of 20 years ago (hence her Cecil Andrus quote). Idahoans born since 1995 can count DOE’s missed deadlines on one hand. According to a 2013 Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission report, DOE met 959 of 964 deadlines (99.5 percent) since 1995 and has shipped tons of waste out of Idaho.
Wilson next claimed that if the nation’s lead spent fuel research lab is allowed to do its job, “deadlines surely will be missed.” Huh? Research and cleanup are handled on separate contracts by different contractors. Wasden’s decision to block research shipments will not make the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) operational any sooner. Conversely, allowing the second shipment (the first has already been lost to Tennessee’s Oak Ridge Laboratory) would not affect DOE’s efforts to resolve the chemistry issues related to treating liquid waste.
Finally, Wilson states that “our land and water will continue to be at risk until our political leaders put the health and safety of Idahoans ahead of DOE’s broken promises.” While this is great rhetoric for fundraisers in California and on the Oregon coast, Idahoans know better. Contamination at the site is from past practices that ended decades ago. Govs. Andrus and Phil Batt insisted on cleanup funding two decades ago and it has steadily come into the state at roughly $500 million each year as legacy waste has steadily left. The Settlement Agreement has been enormously successful cleaning up legacy contamination. DOE’s ongoing research complies with modern environmental laws and is not a contributor to environmental contamination.
Our land and water are not at risk from INL research. That’s why the Settlement Agreement allows waivers, to ensure the lab can fulfill its vital clean energy and national security missions separately from ongoing cleanup of legacy waste.
We can only hope that at some point the attorney general will take notice of the company he is keeping.
Richard Holman is a retired manager from the Idaho National Laboratory with advanced degrees in technology management and applied nuclear energy. He is the current president of the board of directors for the Partnership for Science and Technology and CEO of a technology-based consulting practice.