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Defending the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement

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Although the nuclear navy is still allowed to bring waste to Idaho under the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement, shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel are currently prohibited.

This winter, the Governor’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy panel and the State Legislature have discussed allowing more nuclear waste to come to Idaho. This would send the wrong message to the federal government.

Question: What is at stake?

Answer: The geology of the INL is a terrible place for nuclear waste because of the underlying Snake River Plain Aquifer – the sole source of drinking water for more than 300,000 people. In the 1980s radioactive materials were discovered in the aquifer.

The INL cleanup program is ongoing, but Idaho’s water is still at risk until that program is complete.

Question: Why has Idaho stopped the shipment of “research quantities” of spent nuclear fuel to INL? 

A:  Attorney General Lawrence Wasden stopped a shipment in 2015, and may do so again because the federal government has not met deadlines for stabilizing high-level waste or removing plutonium-contaminated waste that is already here. So far none of the deadlines in the 1995 Agreement have been met

In the 1970s the head of the Atomic Energy Commission promised Governor Cecil Andrus that nuclear waste would be removed from Idaho. However, when Mr. Andrus returned to that office in 1987, he found that no significant progress had been made. In the early 1990s, the governor took steps to force the federal government to remove nuclear waste that was threatening the Snake River Plain Aquifer and blocked waste from entering Idaho. The State of Idaho filed a number of lawsuits against the federal government, which were ultimately resolved in a 1995 court settlement agreement.

Q: Could Idaho become the nation’s “default” nuclear waste dump? 

A: Until the federal government builds a repository for high-level nuclear waste, Idaho is at risk of becoming a permanent “interim” facility. Every year, the nuclear industry generates thousands of metric tons of waste which will be the responsibility of the federal government. The Yucca Mountain site in Nevada is no longer active. Even if Yucca Mountain could be opened, it would not be big enough for all the spent nuclear fuel generated by the industry . The 1995 Agreement is Idaho’s strongest legal tool to protect itself. Idaho Legislators should be defending Idaho and working with Governor Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to assure federal accountability.

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