Statesman Editorial: DOE fuel rod ‘deadline’ for Idaho ignores nuclear pact

We found it interesting and bordering on hypocrisy this week that the U.S. Department of Energy would issue the state of Idaho a deadline — that’s right, a deadline — to act on its request to ship spent nuclear fuel rods to the Idaho National Laboratory to undergo experimental research.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Otter administration has been informed by the DOE that it is planning to send a shipment of spent nuclear fuel rods elsewhere in the country unless Idaho agrees to waive nuclear waste cleanup requirements in the historic “1995 Settlement Agreement” negotiated between the state and the federal government.

Strip away all pretense and what we have here is a threat: Remove all barriers and allow us to deliver more radioactive material into your state in the next 60 days so we can conduct some research or we will find some other state that will. ... That stubborn and inflexible1995 agreement we made with you about cleaning up nuclear waste is, oh, by the way, so 20 years ago. Can’t we move on? ... Do you really want to turn away millions in economic impact and the prospects of jobs and more money and more jobs just because we’re a bit behind on the schedule of promises we made to you way back when?

Let’s make a few things clear. We fully support the INL research mission to receive and study these fuel rods because that’s what they do at INL, and because the results of this research could hold the keys to a better, safer relationship with nuclear power — which we happen to believe is a necessary component in the energy portfolio of the future.

Though there have been many areas of success in the overall cleanup mission at INL in Eastern Idaho over the years, things are stalled regarding some of the nastiest waste on the site that remains in liquid form. The cleanup mission has missed deadlines because of difficulty getting a piece of machinery up and running that can transform this waste from liquid to solid form — a state that will make it safer and less likely to spread contamination in the event of some unforeseen seismic or other event.

There is a move afoot by some to attempt to amend the 1995 agreement, unlink the cleanup goals from the research goals and thus pave the way to let the spent fuel rods in for study.

We are fortunate that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden — who would have to sign off on something like that — is holding DOE’s feet to the fire of the agreement, refusing to allow the shipments in until the cleanup team gets its machinery operational and makes progress on the liquid waste.

Idahoans should resist any ham-fisted federal threats or political pressure from in state or Washington, D. C., to do otherwise. The half-life of the unintended consequences of some incident will never be erased by all the money and jobs in the world.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.