For the past 60 years, nuclear activities at the Idaho National Laboratory have contaminated our land, water, and people.
Idahoans have learned a few things over these decades: Nuclear material is very dangerous and difficult to handle – even when all is going well. And we’ve learned that nuclear waste seems to attract…more nuclear waste.
Here are some recent updates of concern:
The Department of Energy fined Battelle, the corporation that has the contract to manage INL, $425,000 for security violations dating back to 2009. The DOE also fined Battelle $412,000 for carelessly exposing workers to radioactive risk at two separate INL facilities in 2011. (See snakeriveralliance.org/nuclear-waste-is-bad-business.)
A different contractor completed construction of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit. The $650-million IWTU is designed to remove the last 900,000 gallons of high-level waste from buried tanks at INL and dry it. That would help protect the aquifer. But during pre-startup tests in June, the process went awry, and now treatment has been delayed until some time next year. (See, snakeriveralliance.org/nuclear-waste-it-aint-easy-beatrice-brailsford.)
A good deal of radioactive waste will be abandoned at INL’s plutonium burial grounds forever. Even so, it’s worth celebrating that more than half the waste targeted for exhumation has in fact been removed from above our drinking water. Now, however, all exhumation has stopped because of lack of funding. Budget shortfalls have also paralyzed the final dismantlement and disposition of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, another headline cleanup project. We look forward to eventual restart of these important efforts to clean up some of the waste from past nuclear endeavors.
But we remain deeply concerned about the future path of nuclear waste in this country. About the only spent nuclear fuel that moves in the US right now is from the nuclear navy. And this highly radioactive material always, moves to Idaho. The USS Enterprise is now being decommissioned, and starting in 2015, a flood of irradiated fuel will head our way. That might be just the beginning. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended that nuclear waste now stored at commercial reactor sites be consolidated into just a few dumps. Some in Congress like the idea of moving nuclear waste because it solves the political nuclear waste problem. But whenever nuclear waste is on the move, Idahoans should be on guard. We will always be targeted because, from a DC Decision-maker’s Desk, Idaho looks like the middle of nowhere. That perception might have been strengthened when Governor Otter yielded to Battelle’s urging and named his Leadership in Nuclear Energy commission. The LINE Commission, intended or not, might make it look as if Idaho is willing to play the game.
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