Obama's reelection means Idaho has to reconsider nuclear waste future

The decision to back away from Yucca Mountain as a long term nuclear waste storage site is one of the actions of President Barack Obama’s first term that now appears to be permanent after his reelection.

That means Congress is going to have address the long term future examined by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The Commission recommended developing an interim storage plan for the 70,000 tons of high level spent nuclear fuel now sitting next to nuclear reactors with states that consent to take it.

Idaho has 300 tons of spent fuel here and the Navy’s own plans to ship its waste out to Yucca Mountain have to be changed. In the meantime Idaho National Laboratory officials and eastern Idaho business and government leaders have sought to get the state to join New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas as states proposing interim storage sites.

Gov. Butch Otter’s 13-member Leadership In Nuclear Energy Commission, has been exploring he future of nuclear research at the INL but its sideboards became tighter when former Gov. Cecil Andrus leaked a document of INL contractor Battelle Idaho that showed it wanted to dramatically change the 1995 nuclear waste agreement negotiated by Gov. Phil Batt.

The commission delayed its final report release until Dec. 3. After that it will take public comments into January.

Idaho voters backed Batt’s 1995 nuclear waste agreement with the Department of Energy, 60-40, 17 years ago, sending the message: Don’t send more commercial nuclear waste to Idaho and get rid of all of the waste that’s here by 2035.

Otter himself shut down the door to the idea that the INL or the state for that matter, would become the site of a nuclear waste repository after Andrus and Otter stood firm against changing the agreement.

“I’ll say this as plainly and as unequivocally as I can: Idaho will NOT be a repository for nuclear waste,” Otter wrote in a guest opinion. “There is no scheme — secret or otherwise — and I have stated repeatedly and publicly that Idaho will not be the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.”

But of course that doesn’t address the Navy waste that has nowhere to go. When Idaho hits its deadline in 2035 the federal government can merely pay the fines and continue storing the waste here.

Federal court decisions also have upheld Energy plans to leave some low-level-long-lived nuclear waste in the ground at INL, forever, essentially leaving portions of the 890-square mile site as a permanent sacrifice zone. Batt never envisioned that.

Last week, Doug Sayer, president and CEO of Premier Technology, Inc, a company that works in the nuclear industry nationwide, urged the state to consider the economic consequences of federal cutbacks on the INL and the economy of eastern Idaho.

Sayer thinks recycling of spent fuel makes more sense than burying it and wants Otter’s nuclear commission to push for a new nuclear agreement with the federal government.

But he wants state control and he doesn’t want it at the INL.

“I believe there might be a location in Idaho that is not over the aquifer and that has suitable geology and that the technology exists that would allow us to construct a safe and environmentally sound facility,” Sayer said. “I would build it on state endowment lands so all of the revenues would go towards our education system and our universities could manage and operate the facilities, once again generating opportunities and revenues for our state.”

His and Otter’s Commission’s challenge is that for the state to address the realities of the long term nuclear waste issue, they will require a new discussion on the level of the 1996 waste initiative campaign. The Snake River Alliance, the Idaho anti-nuclear group, is certain to oppose any change.

And it has the 1996 vote as its defense. Yet many Idahoans today weren’t voters then.

For Idaho to rewrite the 1995 agreement Otter would have to take the lead on it, campaign hard statewide, and get Batt’s support and ideally Andrus’. It might even take another voter’s initiative.

Sayer says the state must ask if his plan makes environmental, social and economic sense. In a sense that what Otter has to do.

“If the answers to these questions are, no, then I will face the fiscal cliff, right along with you,” Sayer said.

spent nuclear fuel

Rocky, you might note that by endorsing the 1995 Batt agreement the voters of Idaho consented to allow DOE and Navy spent nuclear fuel to continue to come to Idaho in exchange for binding commitments on cleanup and economic development.

Interim nuclear waste storage

Along with setting up interim storage for spent nuclear fuel, the Blue Ribbon Commission also recommended some concurrent actions toward permanent disposal, such as a report on alternatives to Yucca Mountain and an independent agency on nuclear waste disposal. The alternatives report is already several months overdue, and no action has been taken on an independent agency. Democrats must join with republicans in demanding that the Administration take action.

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