Opinion

DOE hearing in Boise to consider issues around handling of nuclear waste

INL nuclear research: Wasden and Simpson have conflicting opinions

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Rep. Mike Simpson have conflicting opinions about whether more nuclear material should be allowed into Idaho before the U.S. Department of Energy gets a waste treatment facility up and running at the Idah
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Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Rep. Mike Simpson have conflicting opinions about whether more nuclear material should be allowed into Idaho before the U.S. Department of Energy gets a waste treatment facility up and running at the Idah

I get the apprehensions people have whenever the U.S. Department of Energy dangles another proposition to Idaho — or any other state — inviting stakeholders to consider storing more nuclear waste.

DOE officials have been traveling around the country this year pitching a new idea for the radioactive problem of storing the stuff — a very large elephant in a shrinking room of solutions often filled with opponents.

Thursday at Boise Centre, DOE is hosting a forum so Idahoans can understand the scope of the matter and entertain a new approach for dealing with our critical national problem of nuclear waste storage.

The new idea is to find states/jurisdictions or tribal groups willing to accept the mission to store things such as spent nuclear fuel piling up around a number of decommissioned nuclear plants. It’s called “consent-based siting” — getting permission up front from government jurisdictions to handle nuclear waste rather than (let’s not sugarcoat this) directing them or prevailing upon them politically to accept nuke storage. It’s become obvious nonconsent measures in places such as Yucca Mountain, Nev., haven’t worked. That site was under consideration as a geologic repository for decades before DOE formally withdrew its application in 2010.

The No. 1 conclusion that emerged from the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in 2012 was — you guessed it — a new consent-based approach to siting.

That’s why DOE officials have been out on the road to sell the idea in cities such as Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, Sacramento, Denver, Boston and Tempe, Ariz. Now it’s Boise, and next week, Minneapolis.

The level of wariness about accepting more waste in, say, Idaho is palpable after generations of an up-and-down relationship with DOE and nuclear waste. Factions here, particularly in Eastern Idaho, are at odds over whether to allow relatively small amounts of spent nuclear fuel into the state so researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory can study it — an area where INL is a national leader, and the Idaho Falls area a big economic benefactor.

The trouble is DOE has fallen behind on an agreed-upon nuclear cleanup schedule with Idaho as spelled out by the “1995 Agreement” that then- Gov. Phil Batt negotiated, and Idahoans voted to approve a year later.

Resistance will even come from one of the forum speakers/panelists invited: Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director of the Snake River Alliance. Last week she offered concerns in a Snake River Alliance paper she shared with the Statesman:

“... The DOE wants to find communities that say YES to that waste stream. One of its key concerns is making sure a YES is ironclad and a consenting community can’t change its mind. But apparently the agency wants to see if Idaho will change its mind. So, we have to ask: Why can’t the DOE hear NO? Idaho’s nonconsent is fierce and longstanding. Yet the DOE and its contractor at INL keep testing our resolve. No means no. The DOE should stop looking to change Idaho’s existing ‘nonconsent’ status.”

The not-in-my-backyard stance is understandable, especially in Idaho. But it doesn’t solve a critical national problem that gets more expensive and dangerous every day.

One could argue that we’ve enjoyed the freedom (through nuclear military uses), the energy (20 percent of U.S. electricity is generated from nuclear power) and the technology that our past nuclear initiatives have produced — and now the half-life waste byproducts are coming home to roost.

I am one who believes nuclear energy — a clean alternative if we can solve the waste issues — is a vital component to our energy future. If you attend the meeting tonight, you will see the nuclear fix we’ve gotten ourselves into.

There is plenty of blame to go around. But you can’t fault the government for touring the country seeking solutions and input about how to fairly and safely deal with 75,000 metric tons of uranium and 12 million cubic feet of high-level waste that isn’t going away anytime soon.

DOE meeting

The U.S. Department of Energy is hosting a public meeting on how to deal with the stockpiles of nuclear waste around the country. Several speakers and presentations are on the program, which begins with an informal open house at 4 p.m. The meeting is from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at Boise Centre, 850 W. Front St.

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