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Apr 19 2018

Don’t Waste Idaho!

The rupture of a barrel of nuclear waste last week at the Idaho National Laboratory highlights why Snake River Alliance is investing in a new public education campaign, Don’t Waste Idaho, to stop more shipments of out-of-state nuclear waste to the Gem State.

Our goal is to stop the federal government from bringing in more out-of-state nuclear waste than could reasonably be treated and exported under the requirements of the 1995 Nuclear Settlement Agreement. The U.S. Department of Energy is proposing changes that would weaken the agreement —if the Idaho Governor and Attorney General agree to the new terms.

About Don’t Waste Idaho, former Governor Phil Batt said, “I’m grateful they are trying to get the agreement carried out. I want to stop any weakening of the agreement that I negotiated and signed with the federal government in 1995”.

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Press release below

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The Latest on Idaho nuclear site incident (all times local): 2:15 p.m. April 12

Federal officials say the first known rupture of a barrel containing radioactive sludge at an eastern Idaho nuclear site might not be the last. That’s because secretive record keeping during the Cold War makes it hard for officials to now know the exact contents of similar barrels.The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that the 55-gallon (208-liter) barrel ruptured late Wednesday at the 890-square-mile (2,305-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.Officials say crews responded to a containment structure at the Idaho Cleanup Project’s Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

Officials say no one was injured and there’s no threat to the public. Experts say more barrels might contain a rupture-inducing mix of radioactive and other materials.The barrels are from nuclear weapons production at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, Colorado.

On March 28, the Idaho Cleanup Project Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) resisted attempts to rush through a statement of support for bringing substantial quantities of out-of-state waste to Idaho.

The initial plan is to ship 7,000 cubic meters (and counting) of untreated transuranic (TRU) waste from the Hanford, WA, shutdown bomb plant to the Idaho National Lab. Eventually, after treatment here, the waste might go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The plan rests on ignoring numerous uncertainties, chief among them whether the waste will ever leave Idaho.

The Alliance submitted a Freedom of Information Act request last November to get more background on the plan. We’ve gotten a few documents that have helped fill in some details, and we appreciate the CAB’s efforts to get more information.

Here’s a media account of the CAB meeting.

Nuke cleanup board wants more info on out-of-state waste

The Idaho Cleanup Project Citizens Advisory Board plans to ask the Department of Energy for more information before making any recommendations about the future of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project.

After about an hour of debate on a conference call Wednesday, the board voted 5-3 to send a letter that asks the DOE to share with the board the results of a study it is doing on the benefits and effects of using the eastern Idaho plant to process transuranic waste from other sites.

The letter asks DOE questions about how it would address concerns about the effect on Idaho’s cleanup budget and about waste transportation and storage and how affected parties such as state agencies and environmental and economic development groups would be involved in the decision-making process. And, it asks how AMWTP could continue to process waste there while complying with the terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement.

“Considering the imminent completion of AMWTP’s current mission, we stress that time is of the essence,” the letter says. “The ICP CAB recommends DOE commit the resources necessary for a vigorous fact-based and open consideration of the ongoing use of this unique and valuable asset. We recognize that inaction is, by default, likely a decision to close AMWTP.”

The board decided to send this letter instead of another one that would have acknowledged some of the same issues but also explicitly asked the DOE to continue to use the plant to treat transuranic waste that is stored out of state now.

The AMWTP is compacting barrels of decades-old transuranic waste stored here before they are shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for permanent storage. The facility, which is located in the desert west of Idaho Falls, is expected to finish processing this waste sometime next year, leading to questions of what it would be used for after that and what will happen to its roughly 700 jobs.

DOE officials are evaluating whether to keep it open to treat more nuclear waste that is currently stored out of state, particularly from the Hanford Site in Washington state. Arguments in favor of keeping AMWTP open include preserving potentially hundreds of jobs, helping with the goal of cleaning up the decades-old waste located at sites throughout the country as a result of Cold War research and weapons development, and saving taxpayer money by keeping the DOE’s only “supercompactor” in operation.

“Your (the CAB board’s) recommendation really is the first step to some kind of closure,” Dana Kirkham, who is the science, technology and research director for Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said during the public comment period.

Concerns include whether keeping the facility open could be done without violating the 1995 agreement, which says any new waste brought into the state must be treated within six months and shipped out of state within another six months, and whether problems at WIPP would result in waste piling up in the state.

“We really have to consider that the infrastructure at WIPP is aging and, in that situation, accidents and problems are not going to be more rare, they’re going to be more common,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director with the watchdog group the Snake River Alliance. “If we bring waste in, it will be stranded in Idaho.”

Marc Johnson, chief of staff for former Gov. Cecil Andrus, said keeping the leverage provided by the settlement agreement is needed to compel the Department of Energy to keep its word. When Andrus was in office he fought to keep nuclear waste out of the state.

“Idaho needs to focus on finishing, in an appropriate manner, the cleanup in Idaho,” Johnson said.

Citizens Advisory Board member Brad Christensen was among those who argued in favor of sending DOE a letter backing continuing to process waste at the plant. The DOE is gathering facts and considering what to do anyway, he said.

“That’s a recommendation for a study,” he said of the letter the board ended up approving. “That’s the epitome of bureaucracy.”

A majority of board members, however, seemed to feel they needed more information before they could go on record supporting keeping the AMWTP running to process out-of-state waste.

“I think there are a lot of issues that do need to be looked at … before we can give a recommendation,” said board member Josh Bartlome.

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) wants to build 12 nuclear power reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory with a total capacity of 600 MW. UAMPS is a political subdivision of the State of Utah, and most of the reactors’ electricity would go out of state. But the project will cost the people of Idaho a lot anyway. Now, two bills in the Idaho Legislature would offer new state tax benefits to nuclear power developers.

Nuclear power uses more water than any other electricity source and produces dangerous nuclear waste. It costs more money, too. Per kilowatt, the math for the kind of small modular reactors UAMPS wants to build is even worse.

MORE WATER Nuclear power is a water hog. Of all the ways to make electricity, nuclear is the most water intensive because it uses so much for cooling. UAMPS says it has not decided on a cooling technology, but water is the likely choice. The 12-reactor power plant would use 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. If the reactors are built, water users downstream from INL will have yet another reason to worry about nuclear impacts on the aquifer.

MORE NUCLEAR WASTE UAMPS’ modular reactors would use 40% more enriched uranium fuel than regular reactors to produce a kilowatt. That means UAMPS would produce more intensely radioactive spent nuclear fuel. There is no final repository for the spent fuel already in Idaho, and what UAMPS would produce would stay here, too.

MORE MONEY So far, the plan has cost $700 million, and if the reactors are built, the total cost will reach $3 billion. But UAMPS claims it will sell the electricity for 6.5c per kW to municipal power systems. To help get to that rate, which is still substantially higher than other electricity, UAMPS is counting on federal, state, and local subsidies. This is a well-worn path for nuclear power.

NuScale, the reactor designer, has already gotten hundreds of millions of dollars from US taxpayers. UAMPS is now looking to get federal money for half the cost of licensing the reactors. If the reactors ever go online, UAMPS will seek federal nuclear production tax credits. It will sign a 5-year lease with the Idaho National Laboratory to use 2 of its 12 reactors for research.

The Idaho State Legislature passed two bills that would give tax breaks for UAMPS should the facility be built and is considering a concurrent resolution on the project.

  • HB 591 would cap UAMPS’ county property assessment at $400 million, far less than the projected value.
  • HB 592 would exempt 1/6 of the whole plant from sales taxes because of INL’s plan to lease 2 of the 12 reactors.




Send your solar comments now! 

By March 9, send comments in support of solar net energy metering to: on Idaho Power’s case IPC-E-17-13.  For suggestions on what to say to the IPUC click here.

Pocatello hearing: March 5, at 7 pm at City Council Chambers, 911 N. 7th Ave. Please attend — dressed in yellow — and show your support of solar energy.

Idaho Power feels that electric customers with solar, wind or micro-hydro are not paying their fair share. They want to put them in a separate rate class with the intent to raise rates later. The Snake River Alliance wants to defend affordable solar energy in Idaho. Studies by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs show that solar net-metering may actually lower retail electric rates. Idaho Power should encourage, not discourage, solar and distributed generation.

On March 8 and 9, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will listen to testimony from the Alliance other intervenors. You can read our most recent testimony here. We now have a webpage on Net Metering —  follow this link to see more.  Let’s keep solar affordable in Idaho!