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Reprocessing is the must-take step between a nuclear reactor and a nuclear bomb, and is the source of some of the most dangerous waste on earth. During reprocessing, spent nuclear fuel from reactors is dissolved in acid so bomb ingredients – plutonium and highly enriched uranium – can be removed and used for weapons. Congress defined what’s left – “the highly radioactive material resulting from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel” – as high-level waste in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982). Congress also mandated that high-level waste be disposed of in deep geologic repositories, isolated from the human biosphere.

More than 100 million gallons of liquid high-level waste are stored in buried tanks in Washington, South Carolina, and Idaho.
More than 100 million gallons of liquid high-level waste are stored in buried tanks in Washington, South Carolina, and Idaho.

High-level waste was produced by the US nuclear weapons complex at the Hanford Reservation (WA), the Savannah River Site (SC), and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). There is also high-level waste at West Valley (NY) that was produced in a commercial reprocessing facility. Much of INL’s high-level waste has been calcined, or dried, and is stored in large, above ground stainless steel bins. Some, however, is still a liquid and is stored in buried tanks.

Safely managing high-level waste – let alone disposing of it — has proven to be one of the Department of Energy’s most difficult jobs, one it has not always performed very well. For years, DOE has tried to change the definition of high-level waste so it can take shortcuts in how it is handled and disposed. The Trump administration DOE has now launched another all-out effort to fundamentally alter more than 50 years of national consensus on how high-level waste — the most toxic, radioactive, and dangerous waste in the world — is managed and ultimately disposed in geologic repositories.

DOE wants to “reinterpret” high-level waste so it can be abandoned in place or be put in shallow land burial. To move the goalposts in this way would endanger current and future generations who live near high-level waste sites in Washington, Idaho, and South Carolina or who live near sites that might be chosen, illegally, for high-level waste disposal, including the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (NM).

DOE asked for public comments on the latest plan to change the rules. Eight public interest organizations, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and including the Snake River Alliance, offered a joint response: DOE should withdraw its high-level waste reinterpretation proposal because it is contrary to law. DOE has a Congressional mandate to protect the public and the environment from the long-term dangers posed by high-level waste. That mandate must be carried out and cannot be shirked or changed because it is too expensive or too difficult or because of technical or economic constraints. Doing so would violate Congress’s charge in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. DOE should focus its efforts on working with affected States, Tribes, and interested members of the public to ensure protective cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex.

As President of the Board of the Snake River Alliance, I want to thank all our members for their ongoing support.  As a member-based organization, it is all of you – all of us! – who keep Idaho’s citizens aware of the potential effects nuclear waste could have on our lives. We have a lot to be proud of AND a lot of work ahead of us in this 40th year of our existence.  With your help, we look forward to a busy and successful year! Please enjoy reading why my husband, long time Snake River Alliance member Cees Hoefnagels, and I joined the Alliance.

 ~Julie Hoefnagels

Why I Joined the Snake River Alliance

Cees Hoefnagels

I grew up in the Netherlands during World War II, and as a result, I have always been vehemently opposed to war and any type of bomb.  The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and the constant threat of bombings forced my family (2 adults and 5 little children) to live in the basement to keep the Nazis from seeing our lights to prevent bombings during nighttime raids.

I moved to the United States (Silicon Valley) for work in 1967 and to Idaho in the late 1970’s.  Not long after my arrival in Idaho, I became aware of the presence of the nuclear facilities in Southeastern Idaho and the danger it posed to the Idaho water supply. I couldn’t believe it.  I immediately looked for like-minded people with whom to protest this situation, and found them at the then young Snake River Alliance.

My first years in Idaho were spent working in Nampa.  A small group of 9 of us (including a priest, 2 nuns, and a doctor) held watches to monitor the progress of what was then called the White Train (because of white boxcars carrying nuclear waste), to alert the public and to protest against these trains coming through our city and state.  We had some success in raising awareness (lots of newspaper coverage), but did not succeed in stopping the trains altogether.

I eventually moved to Boise and continued my work as a member of the Alliance.  I have stuck with it through thick and thin because the job of raising awareness of the dangers of the nuclear industry has not gone away.

Julie Hoefnagels

My awareness of nuclear power was awakened in 1986, with the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.  I lived in San Francisco at the time, and within a week after the accident joined a group protesting nuclear power called Beyond War.  It was the first time I had really focused on the dangers of nuclear power production and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  My most vivid memory of this time is of an art installation at Civic Center Plaza made up of white ceramic cones about a foot tall, one for every nuclear weapon in the world’s nuclear arsenals.  The cones covered nearly the whole plaza.  It was sobering.

After leaving San Francisco, my attention was drawn more towards environmental issues and I was part of a group that sought to raise awareness about CFC’s and other environmental dangers.  It wasn’t until I returned to Idaho in the early 2000s that I became aware of the Snake River Alliance.

I had gone out to dinner with a friend at the Shangri-La Tea House, thinking it would be a quiet place to relax, only to find that some group called the Snake River Alliance was holding an informational evening there.  I was totally annoyed, tried to tune it out, but became riveted by what I was overhearing.  The then ED, Liz Woodruff, was speaking eloquently about the dangers of nuclear waste and what the Alliance was trying to do.  It planted the seed.

A few years later, I met Cees and began attending Alliance events with him.  I knew at once I had found “my people.”  I loved the work-together spirit and the way this group was taking on such an enormous problem.  I have been inspired by working with fellow Alliance members and enjoyed becoming more involved over the years.  I have been the Board President since June of 2017 and I hope that I can really help to further the organization’s goals and work in the new year!

Former Governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus fought long and hard with the federal government to craft the 1995 Nuclear Settlement Agreement. Today, the Department of Energy still hasn’t met many important deadlines, and even worse, there’s talk in some places of loosening the Agreement so the DOE can send more out-of-state waste to Idaho.

The Snake River Alliance launched the Don’t Waste Idaho campaign and stopped this from happening! Over the last six months, the Alliance rallied public opposition to DOE’s proposal to ship nuclear waste from Hanford, Washington for treatment at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project in Idaho. The plutonium-laden waste could endanger our roadways and end up stranded in Idaho for decades.

The Alliance thanks our Don’t Waste Idaho advisory committee members for their help, including Gary Richardson, James and Leslee Reed, former State Legislator Donna Pence, Twin Falls Councilman Chris Talkington, Governor Andrus’ Chief of Staff Marc Johnson, and Andrus’ daughter Tracy Andrus. We also want to thank the marketing firm Oliver Russell of Boise for their help building the campaign plan, launching the Don’t Waste Idaho website, and placing Don’t Waste Idaho billboards in both Boise and Twin Falls.

A really fun part of the campaign was our “Nuclear Waste Roadshow,” fake radioactive waste barrels (Thank you, Tim Norton!) that traveled on a trailer donated by Dorian Duffin. The Roadshow got a lot of attention as it went down I-84 to farmer’s markets, rallies, educational forums, and other events across Southern Idaho. It was even in Boise’s 4th of July Parade alongside a horde of “Nuclearized Zombies”!

The Don’t Waste Idaho campaign held many successful outreach and educational events that raised the level of public concern about nuclear waste to new heights. There are now more people across Idaho who are educated about nuclear waste – and speaking out about it! We generated dozens of Letters to the Editors, Guest Opinions and newspaper articles. We received TV coverage of one of our rallies and two press conferences, with a clip of one going national. Enough political pressure was generated by our campaign that many candidates and leaders came out against DOE’s proposal.or pledged to uphold the 1995 Agreement. In the end, the campaign generated hundreds of calls and letters to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in support of Idaho’s 1995 Nuclear Settlement Agreement. Volunteers even delivered 3,000 petition signatures and about 40 recorded comments to him personally!

Six months ago, we thought the Department of Energy would not listen to our concerns. It seemed like it was a “done deal” that 33,000 barrels of plutonium-laced waste would come into Idaho (even as early as January 2019!) But the DOE has cancelled the project! We are thankful that the Hanford waste is not coming to Idaho and thankful to the many volunteers across the state who worked so hard to make Don’t Waste Idaho a success!  

President Trump signed a budget bill for 2019 that includes $1.3 billion for nuclear energy research and development. That money will fund a whole raft of bad ideas, many right here in Idaho.

$100 million will go toward 12 small modular reactors (SMRs). A chunk of that will go to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to pay for the engineering, design, and licensing of 12 nuclear power reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could approve the project in 2023 and the first reactor is supposed to go online in 2026. SMRs have all the flaws of typical nuclear power reactors and even make some of them worse! We can and should stop this project.

Nuclear power reactors won’t stop GLOBAL WARMING.  Claims that nuclear power can play a key role in addressing climate change and that SMRs could be particularly effective do not hold up. Nuclear power simply costs too much and takes too long to make a difference. A recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the “dramatic cost reduction that SMR proponents describe is unlikely to materialize with this first generation of light water SMRs, even at ‘nth-of-a-kind’ deployment.” That means they can’t help provide a “new carbon-free wedge on the critical time scale for the next several decades.”

Speaking of MONEY,  UAMPS’s current projection for the cost of its nuclear power plant is $4.2 billion. Starting with its first research grants, the project has gotten hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. UAMPS management is expecting us to continue to cover about half the cost. Future taxpayer subsidies will include federal nuclear production tax credits and state and local sales and property tax breaks.

Is there a MARKET? Nearly all the project’s electricity would be sold outside of Idaho. The original assumption was that the buyers would be UAMPS member utilities in surrounding states. So far utilities have only subscribed to 180MWs of the reactors’ 720MWs – and those that signed up still have two more chances to pull out of the project. INL has committed to buying 120MW. That leaves 420MWs without a buyer.

Both of Idaho’s US Senators are sponsors of a bill that would leverage the Pentagon’s buying power to solve this market problem and allow the government to buy more nuclear energy. Here’s how: By law federal agencies can only sign 10-year power purchase agreements. That’s not long enough to cover nuclear power’s sky-high capital costs. If this bill becomes law, federal agencies, including the military (the government’s largest energy consumer), will agree to buy nuclear-generated electricity for 40 years – and pay way above market rates! This bipartisan brainchild is called the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act.  

With SMRs, there is more than just money at stake. Nuclear power is a WATER hog. Of all the ways to make electricity, nuclear uses the most. UAMPS’s 12 nuclear reactor power plant would consume 18,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Snake River Aquifer. Per kilowatt, that’s 25% more water than even full-sized nuclear reactors use. The Snake River Aquifer is already over-allocated and remains the sole source of drinking water for 300,000 people. How will SMRs affect water rights in Idaho?

And of course, nuclear power means more NUCLEAR WASTE!  UAMPS would use 40% more enriched uranium fuel than regular reactors to produce a kilowatt. That means it would produce more intensely radioactive spent fuel. The spent fuel would contain a higher percentage of plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear bombs. There is no final repository for spent fuel so the waste would stay right here in Idaho.

Building nuclear power reactors in Idaho is a bad idea. Please join the Snake River Alliance to oppose commercial nuclear power reactors at INL.

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“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,

but the silence of our friends.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Who will speak up for Idaho?

One vital group, the Snake River Alliance, is speaking up as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and Idaho’s advocate for renewable and nuclear-free energy. They raise community awareness about the dangers of nuclear waste, weapons and power while working to identify and promote sustainable alternatives. Their work is done through advocacy, collaboration, education and grassroots organizing.

Here are a few key areas that make the Snake River Alliance so important:

They support renewable energy, which is a massive return on your investment! Renewable energy is superior to fossil fuels. The latter draws on finite resources that will eventually dwindle, becoming too expensive or too environmentally damaging to retrieve.

Western states could save $600 million by using more renewable energy. The Rocky Mountain Institute analyzed a case study of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a co-op that provides power to more than 1 million consumers in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. RMI found the co-op’s customers could save over $600 million through 2030 if the co-op integrated more renewable energy resources.

We can’t afford to be silent. The risks of transporting deadly nuclear waste, the environmental justice impacts and the long-term health effects are profound. It is a challenge to make nuclear power safe and nuclear fuel remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years after it is no longer useful in a commercial reactor. The waste disposal problem has become a major challenge for policymakers and Idaho’s own water supply is in danger (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists).

The State of Idaho’s own research shows that the water beneath the INL – and the radioactive isotopes it contains – will flow to the Magic Valley within 150 to 250 years.

The Snake River Alliance is connected to the community. They are your neighbors. They are your children. They are your grandchildren. They fight for the present and the future.

The recent rupture of a barrel of nuclear waste at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) highlights why the Snake River Alliance invested in a far-reaching public education campaign, Don’t Waste Idaho, to stop more shipments of nuclear waste to the Gem State.

Buhl farmers,  Leslee and James Reed acted as part of the Don’t Waste Idaho advisory board, and called on Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Governor Butch Otter to make sure there is a clear plan for any additional nuclear waste that comes into Idaho.

“If we don’t enforce our existing agreement with the federal government, the waste could get stranded in Idaho and threaten our water,” said Leslee Reed.

And this has been a long fight. ​In the 1950s and ’60s, plutonium-contaminated waste from the Rocky Flats H-bomb plant was buried in unlined pits and trenches in the Arco Desert above the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The Snake River Alliance was founded 40 years ago as a response to the resulting environmental degradation.

“When I learned that the federal government now wants to truck nuclear waste on I-84, right through Boise, I was horrified,” said Amber Labelle, a veterinary specialist who recently moved to the area and had no knowledge of Idaho’s nuclear waste issues. “As a mother and a scientist, I was shocked to learn about Idaho’s history of being used as a nuclear waste dump.”

So what are you waiting for? YOUR actions matters.

Take action today by donating to the Snake River Alliance for #GivingTuesday!