When I had the privilege of serving as Idaho’s governor in the late 1990s, storing nuclear waste in Idaho was a big topic.
The Idaho National Laboratory at Idaho Falls had served as a dumping ground for undesirable materials, including those containing passive and active nuclear waste, with little thought of what would happen to those materials during a safe, final disposition of them.
Former Idaho Sens. Frank Church and Jim McClure were among Idaho politicians and concerned citizens who tried their best to stabilize the INL and put that unique facility to a better, safer use.
But Gov. Cecil Andrus was the most determined to change the role of INL. In his final days in office, he blocked spent Navy fuel rods from coming to our facility.
My friend Cecil then went to a much-deserved retirement and left the problem to me. I was damned if I would let the shipment in and was faced with a losing lawsuit by blocking these shipments. Our U.S. Navy said that their submarines and other ships would be stranded at sea and sailors would not be allowed to come home for their accumulated leaves or vacations.
The Navy proclaimed that a national emergency existed as long as Idaho blocked spent rods from coming to INL. Idaho would certainly lose our case in court. My only alternative was to try to renew a negotiated settlement with the U.S. government. Sen. McClure, Assistant Attorney General Clive Strong and others carried the ball for me. Cecil Andrus was reluctant to be involved, but he played an important role in reaching the settlement.
At the time I was quite unpopular. A recall to remove me from office had a lot of support.
After my agreement was put together, there was a public vote to approve it or reject it. Actor Bruce Willis led the opposition and vowed to put me in as a clerk in a 7-Eleven store.
But neither side wanted any more waste to come into Idaho. My agreement called for cleaning up everything possible at the site and shipping all transuranic waste — the long-lived nuclear waste — to a secure facility in New Mexico. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has insisted on strict compliance to the contract. Our personnel at INL have done a fantastic job of carrying out the agreement. We are behind on two projects — putting our high-level liquid waste into a solid, permanent form and finishing shipment of transuranic waste to New Mexico. There was an accident in the New Mexico storage facility, which is being repaired, and our shipments are ready and will be resumed.
After cleaning up everything being stored above our Snake River Aquifer, it is ironic that our U.S. government now wants to send Hanford, Wash., transuranic waste to Idaho in order to prepare it for shipment to New Mexico.
Come on, Hanford. Prepare your own transuranic waste and send it to New Mexico. We did ours.
Philip E. Batt was governor of Idaho from 1995 to 1999.