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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 The Yucca Mountain site in Nevada is no longer active.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.

A decade ago, nuclear proponents were claiming a renaissance for the US industry. Dozens of reactors were penciled out – if only on the backs of napkins – and the federal government was set to provide billions of dollars in loan guarantees for new construction. States in the southeast US allowed utilities to impose Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) charges on ratepayers long before reactors went on-line.

No more. Only four new reactors are being built in the US, and it is possible that none of them will ever operate. Westinghouse, which is building the reactors – all over-budget and behind schedule – is out of the nuclear construction business. Its parent company, Toshiba, recently announced a $6.3 billion loss on its US nuclear business and may well file for bankruptcy.

The bottom line for nuclear power is grim. Since October 2012, reactor owners have closed (or revealed plans to close) 14 reactors at 11 sites across the country. Even more telling, according to World Nuclear News, is that of 27 GigaWatts of new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2016, only 1 GW was nuclear, and that from a reactor that took 42 years to bring on-line.

Developers promoting small modular reactor (SMR) such as NuScale say their plans are unaffected by all the bad nuclear news. But most analysts see SMRs as a bridge to a very uncertain next generation of reactors. It’s becoming clear that the present shore is crumbling as the far shore grows more distant.

Mar 6 2017

It Is Time to Act!

The clock that symbolizes the threat of global catastrophe from nuclear weapons and climate change has advanced 30 seconds. It’s now 2 ½ minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Manhattan Project scientists founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945 because they “could not remain aloof from the consequences of their work.” The Doomsday Clock first appeared on the cover of the magazine in 1947, and the hands were set then at 7 minutes to midnight. The hands have since been set as close as 2 minutes to midnight in 1953, after both the Soviet Union and the U.S. tested H-bombs. The farthest away from doom they’ve been – 17 minutes – was in 1991, when the end of the Cold War led Russia and the U.S. to make deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals and sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

This year the hands have moved as close to midnight as they have been since 1953. The Bulletin explained the decision in January: “In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change. Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

The Snake River Alliance has always known that our words – and actions – matter, too. The Bulletin’s guidance to its readers on what to do next echoes our convictions. 1. Learn about the problem. 2. Share what you’ve learned with others. 3. Tell your government representatives what to do.

Mar 6 2017

Nuclear Updates

The latest test of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) has failed. The IWTU was to have solidified INL’s last 900,000 gallons of liquid high-level waste in 2012, a key cleanup deadline in the 1995 Settlement Agreement. But the facility has yet to operate successfully, and each time it is tested – without radioactive waste – workers encounter a different set of major problems.

February 2017 was to have been the start of a series of increasingly long test runs. But the first run had to be aborted when one of the vessels supposed to hold and treat the liquid did not heat up properly – although the surrounding cell enclosure did. Now everything has to cool off before inspectors can go in and try to figure out what went wrong this time.

Some people believe it’s all right that the liquid waste is still in the buried tanks because the tanks haven’t leaked. But the pipes and valves around them have, and the soil surrounding the tank farm is some of the most contaminated at the Site. This winter’s weather reminds us that INL can’t cap the tank farm area until the waste has been removed. Every time it rains or snows, more of the waste in the soil is driven down toward water.

 

Shipments from INL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will begin in April after accidents in February 2014 closed the facility. It will be slow going. WIPP will accept 128 shipments in 2017, and 61 of those will come from Idaho. Our large share reflects both the precedence the 1995 Settlement Agreement gives the State as well as how much plutonium-contaminated weapons waste ended up here. But WIPP plans to accept only 34 shipments in 2018 because the waste hoist that lowers barrels into the repository needs major repairs. INL currently has more than 900 shipments of contact-handled waste and more than 200 shipments of remote-handled waste that is ready to certify for WIPP disposal.

The Alliance is searching for a dedicated and enthusiastic Program Associate to join our staff in Boise. Help us protect Idaho and build a new world with 100%, safe, clean and renewable energy. View the Job Description on our website. To apply send resume and cover letter to wwilson@snakeriveralliance.org by March 20, 2017.