Guest Opinions

Idaho Attorney General Wasden should sign waiver, allow Idaho nuclear research

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter supports issuing a waiver that would allow the U.S. Department of Energy to ship a small quantity of commercial nuclear fuel to Idaho National Laboratory for vital research. So does Idaho’s congressional delegation: Reps. Mike Simpson, and Raul Labrador; Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says he supports the lab doing this vital national security and clean energy work, he also says he wants the INL to retain its coveted status as the nation’s lead nuclear research lab. However, the attorney general continues to block the shipment and put INL, the state economy and our national security at risk.

That’s the reason I authored House Concurrent Resolution 60, which passed overwhelmingly by the Idaho House of Representatives and Senate. HCR 60 expressed support for INL’s clean energy and national security mission, while urging Wasden to join Otter in signing the waiver.

Read the resolution. It wasn’t critical of Wasden in any way. But, speaking to Idaho Public Television recently, the attorney general characterized HCR 60 as a “political ambush” and a “greased bill.”

First, as policymakers, it is entirely appropriate for the Legislature to offer the attorney general guidance on an issue vital to the state economy and national security.

Second, HCR 60 was drafted and voted on late in the session because that’s when we learned Wasden had been unable to reach an agreement with the Department of Energy, and a second shipment of commercial fuel had been delayed and could be lost.

Third, Wasden alone is blocking the shipment, which would arrive in the form of a solid, weigh roughly 100 pounds, pose absolutely no threat to the aquifer and be worth up to $10 million annually to the state.

HCR 60 passed the House on a 53-16 vote and the Senate on a voice vote. Legislators from every region in Idaho and of all political persuasions expressed support for INL’s clean energy and national security mission. These lawmakers understand the remarkable cleanup progress at the site that resulted from the 1995 Settlement Agreement. DOE has done an admirable job hitting cleanup milestones and shipping waste out. These lawmakers get that the DOE has spent millions of dollars and is working diligently to solidify the last 900,000 gallons of liquid waste, and that blocking a research project critical to our national security doesn’t accomplish that task one day sooner.

Lawmakers, from southeast Idaho, the Magic Valley, the Treasure Valley and north Idaho, recognize the INL’s importance to the Idaho economy. The lab is Idaho’s 5th largest private employer. It spent $130 million with Idaho businesses last year and generated $58 million in state and local taxes — money that helped fund schools, pave roads and hire police and firefighters.

Wasden wasn’t elected to enact policy. That’s the job of the Legislature and governor. Yet, Wasden has effectively taken on the role of policymaker by refusing to allow the INL to fulfill its mission as the nation’s lead nuclear research facility.

Five years ago, Wasden granted the same kind of waiver he is blocking today. As we did in HCR 60, I urge him to do the right thing, and soon, before any additional damage is done, to the great State of Idaho.

Jeff Thompson is a Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives representing District 30. He lives in Idaho Falls.