State Politics

Batt, Andrus quietly tour Idaho National Laboratory after criticizing proposed nuclear research shipments

Former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt took a low-profile tour of several Idaho National Laboratory and cleanup facilities earlier this week, Andrus confirmed Thursday.

“It’s an excellent facility. Always has been,” Andrus told the Post Register.

For months Batt and Andrus have criticized a plan to bring two shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel rods to INL for research purposes.

Despite a state-mandated ban on such shipments since 2013, due to a missed cleanup deadline, INL officials have argued the shipments are necessary in order to conduct research on nuclear fuel recycling and storage. Officials say the research is worth $10-$20 million per year in federal funding.

But in a news conference last month, the ex-governors threatened legal action against the U.S. Department of Energy if the shipments move forward. One shipment was initially scheduled for this summer and another early next year.

INL would not discuss the Tuesday tour. Very few people knew about it, and the former governors apparently wanted to stay under the radar while in eastern Idaho.

“I cannot confirm or deny any tour,” INL spokeswoman Nicole Stricker said.

“We have always supported the site,” Andrus said Thursday. “What we don’t support is storing nuclear waste above the (East Snake Plain Aquifer).”

INL Director John Grossenbacher traveled to Boise several weeks ago to invite the governors on a tour of the facilities, said Chris Carlson, Andrus’ former press secretary.

“They were there to listen and see if there were things they should know that they didn’t know, or that were relevant to the current debate,” Carlson said.

Carlson said the governors still oppose the shipments.

“It’s not really changing their view about this whole issue with regards to asking for a waiver on the (1995 Settlement Agreement),” Carlson said.

The governors, he said, are “still firm in their convictions.”