October 31, 2011
The Blue Ribbon Commission
C/O Timothy A. Frazier, Designated Federal Officer
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585
Dear Blue Ribbon Commission:
On behalf of the members of the Snake River Alliance, I respectfully submit these comments for your review in relation to the draft recommendations of this commission regarding the nuclear waste program in the United States. The Snake River Alliance is a state-wide, member based organization that serves as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and advocate for clean energy. We have done this work for more than 32 years.
The Snake River Alliance has long advocated that nuclear waste be stored as safely as possible as close to its point of generation as possible. That shifts the focus from moving the problem out of sight to actually addressing any potential safety problems in current storage. A bipartisan array of Idaho Governors has long stood against Idaho being a target for the nation’s waste, and with good reason. The Idaho National Laboratory sits above the Snake River Plain Aquifer—the sole source of drinking water for nearly 300,000 Idahoans. In the 1990s the Alliance helped lead a successful campaign that culminated in the agreement to block the importation of commercial waste to Idaho and guarantee that no irradiated fuel remain in Idaho after 2035. This agreement represents more than a tacit concurrence of government entities because it was made with the people of Idaho and it must be upheld.
In what follows we will detail our input and concerns regarding this Commission’s draft recommendations for the storage of nuclear waste. The Alliance is centrally concerned with:
1) Ensuring that Idaho does not become a de facto nuclear waste dump.
2) Insisting that commercial waste is not shifted to consolidated storage and instead is stored using Hardened on Site Storage (HOSS).
3) Requesting that the Commission strongly and clearly recommend against the use of reprocessing.
4) Recommending that the Commission does not encourage breaking promises made to States about the kinds and quantities of waste they will receive.
5) Ensuring that the Commission’s articulation of “consent” encompasses a comprehensive agreement by States and not merely cities or counties.
I. Idaho cannot be the host to America’s commercial nuclear waste
As we describe above, the 1995 Settlement Agreement explicitly prohibits the importation of commercial nuclear waste into Idaho. This Agreement was made with the people of Idaho and represents a series of critical agreements with Idahoans from the state and federal government. The erosion of any one of these agreements puts the strength of this important document and the practices it lays out in jeopardy. As Governor Butch Otter explained in an email to the Eastern Idaho Leadership Group on October 6, 2011:
“The discussion surrounding interim storage of spent nuclear fuel is constantly evolving. Our greatest concern today, given all the uncertainty at the national level, is that interim storage becomes permanent storage.”
Given that the waste which currently exists in Idaho has been here for over a half-century, it is clear that “interim” storage can last a life-time. The people of Idaho will not accept the possibility of being considered by the BRC to fulfill recommendation number 5 concerning consolidated “interim” storage. As an editorial in Idaho’s largest state-wide paper recently articulated,
“Idahoans have been clear on one point: They don’t want their state to become a dump for nuclear waste. Fifteen years ago they spoke clearly. With a resounding 62.5 percent majority, they voted to ratify then-Gov. Phil Batt’s waste clean-up agreement. A central selling point: the agreement calls for removing all spent nuclear reactor fuels from the state by 2035” (Idaho Statesman, Our View, 9/18/11).
II. Consolidated Storage is a bad idea
Attempts to move the nation’s waste to one or more consolidated storage facilities have failed in the past and there is no reason to believe they will succeed in the future. With few exceptions, the nation’s commercial radioactive waste can be stored safely on-site. The way to increase the safety of these storage facilities is to use Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS), which lessens the threat of radioactive release in the event of an attack or natural disaster. This approach is highly preferable to one that spends money and time to move all of the nation’s waste, increasing transportation risks and multiplying the number of times waste will need to be moved. The BRC should take a firm stand in favor of HOSS as an immediate approach to dealing with the nation’s radioactive waste.
III. The BRC should decisively recommend against reprocessing
The Blue Ribbon Commission was correct in its draft recommendations to not look at reprocessing as a “solution” to nuclear waste. Reprocessing is dangerous, dirty and expensive. Reprocessing in Idaho made the INL one of the most contaminated sites in the Department of Energy complex. Despite laudable – and very expensive – cleanup efforts, reprocessing contamination will remain in our soil and drinking water until the end of time.
While the BRC does make a strong point against reprocessing in the body of the draft report (p.113) this conclusion deserves to be made in the executive summary and should be included in that section, with appropriate emphasis, in the final draft.
IV. The Federal Government must keep promises already made on nuclear waste or risk the viability of future plans
It is imperative that the BRC recognize the commitments already made to states regarding the kinds and quantities of nuclear waste they can receive. The people of New Mexico were promised that the Waste Isolation Pilot Project would only receive defense transuranic waste.
This commitment must be upheld, for if that promise is broken there will be no reason for other states to trust the federal governments’ promises, which will in turn undermine the efforts of this committee to help develop a “consent” based approach to waste storage. Similarly, Idaho previously agreed to accept Navy and DOE spent fuel in exchange for not having to take commercial fuel. If Idaho were made to take commercial fuel, what reason would there be for us to continue to take Navy or DOE waste? The BRC must take care that its recommendations do not impinge upon a web of agreements and commitments that must be upheld to lead to any type of workable plan in the future.
V. “Consent” is a state issue
While it is reassuring to see the BRC highlight an approach to siting that is “consent” based, it is critical that the BRC recognize that “consent” must come from states, not from municipalities or counties. The United States federal government is organized by states, and any consent must come from those states. As in Idaho, natural resources, public health and safety, and transportation concerns are state-wide issues. No one community can speak for a state in defining consensus about such a critical decision.
The Snake River Alliance will continue to carefully monitor the process of public participation and decision making associated with the BRC’s forthcoming recommendations. Our members live near a DOE site with massive levels of radioactive contamination, and the charge of the BRC is of great interest to us. We will look forward to future communications about the status of the BRC’s final report and we will continue to mobilize Idahoans to participate in the nuclear waste debate. We sincerely hope the BRC seriously considers the points we have made, as well as those of other public interest groups across the US. Thank you for your time and consideration.