A recommendation that Idaho join the scramble seeking federal designation as an interim nuclear waste storage site, would be premature, Idaho Department of Commerce Chief Jeff Sayer says.
His comments Monday came as Gov. Butch Otter’s 13-member Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission released a report with 60 subcommittee recommendations and a lot of questions. But it did not yet call for Idaho to join New Mexico, Texas and South Carolina in the competition to serve as an interim nuclear storage site and the presumed economic development sweeteners that would go along with it.
That is significant since many eastern Idaho business interests support bringing waste into Idaho they are confident can be handled safely. These are all strong Otter supporters and want him on their side.
The Idaho National Laboratory’s top contractor Battelle has stopped short of such a recommendation, instead seeking only enough waste to support a growing mission to manage nuclear waste into the 21st Century and beyond.
But such efforts are premature in part because the Blue Ribbon Commission’s national recommendations for resolving the waste issue after the Obama Administration announced it was closing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada have gone nowhere. Congress has not yet voted and some Republicans still hope Yucca Mountain, which has never opened, may come back on the table.
“It's not only premature from a federal standpoint,” Sayer said. “We need to have a conversation as a state before we go down that path.”
Otter’s LINE Commission was supposed to start that conversation. But Otter himself all but shut it down when he said “I’ll say this as plainly and as unequivocally as I can: Idaho will NOT be a repository for nuclear waste.”
Still, Otter hopes the commission’s work will help the state find a way to enhance and support the Department of Energy’s nuclear power research mission at the INL. The lab creates 24,000 jobs and has been an economic engine for Idaho for more than 60 years.
Just as important, the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement was written with Yucca Mountain in mind. If its gone and alternatives aren’t found, Idaho is going to have waste long after 2035 with only minimal fine payments.
Sayer hopes that the release of the report begins the conversation that will get Idahoans to recognize the strengths and the limits of the 1995 agreement. He hopes the conversation at least considers changes in the agreement that recognize the new realities 17 years later.
“Can we create a financial reward for carrying the nation’ burden?” Sayer asks.
If the conversation Sayer seeks is about turning Idaho into an interim nuclear waste storage site officially, then the Snake River Alliance’s Liz Woodruff has a simple answer she thinks Idahoans will share, “No,” she said.
She notes that all of the questions in the report and the commission’s task in general suggest that the lab’s economic future is tied to allowing more waste. One of the 60 draft recommendations calls for a pilot regional interim storage facility.
“I the people of Idaho will reject that idea and we have already rejected it,” Woodruff said.
“We’ve said all along that the commission wants to pursue a future in nuclear energy that the economics and political realities don’t support,” Woodruff said.
She acknowledges that “There is always going to be nuclear waste at the site.” But she’s not ready to call this reality an interim storage option or to discuss what happens after 2035.
That’s up to the federal government to solve, not Idaho, she said.
“The Line Commission has gotten ahead of itself throughout this process,” she said.