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Linda Leeuwrik – Pocatello

I’m eager to attend DC Days to be part of the effort to stop additional nuclear waste from coming into Idaho and to do all I can to ensure our beautiful state doesn’t become the country’s nuclear dumpsite.

Amy Hilton – Boise

I want to go to DC with the Snake River Alliance because I want to be a catalyst for the changes I want to see in U.S. nuclear energy public policies. This is the perfect opportunity to make my voice heard.

Brent Marchbanks – Boise

One thing about today’s political climate: the powers that be are unsure of their standing with constituents. It’s a great time for them to hear from us on energy and nuclear waste issues.

 

Wendy Wilson – Boise

Washington, DC, still belongs to all Americans. It is crucial for citizens to be there to keep dirty-energy lobbyists from running amok.

 

 

Beatrice Brailsford – Pocatello

We’re halfway through a $22 billion cleanup of nuclear weapons contamination in Idaho. At the very same time, we’re threatened with crippling funding cuts to environmental regulation and hearing talk about a new nuclear arms race. I want to help stop our country from making the same mistakes again.

Cleanup workers at the Idaho National Laboratory have successfully removed the last wooden box of radioactive waste from the above-ground Transuranic Storage Area. Technicians signed their names to the final retrieval container on the night of February 21, 2017. This is an important step in INL’s overall cleanup plan for transuranic (TRU) waste, both above-ground and buried.

The next step will be to treat the retrieved waste at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Plant. The waste will still eventually have to be shipped out of Idaho for permanent disposal, but in the meantime, it will be stored much more safely than it has been.

Until 1970, transuranic waste, which is contaminated with plutonium, was buried in unlined pits and trenches at INL. But plutonium remains hazardous for 240,000 years, and the government realized that, until a deep geologic repository was available, it was safer to store it above ground. At INL, the waste was stacked on concrete pads next to the burial grounds and then covered with dirt, so it was essentially above-ground buried waste. Over the years, the Transuranic Storage Area grew to cover 7 acres and was eventually enclosed in a giant metal building.

Efforts to process all the above-ground TRU waste began in 2003. As workers moved to older waste stored in increasingly damaged barrels and boxes, the work became more dangerous. In 2010, one worker was exposed when a waste container released plutonium-238 as it was being opened. Work was suspended for more than a year to install movable enclosures to contain contamination as workers handled the old packages.

Despite the difficulties, the INL workforce removed approximately 65,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste from unsafe storage in TSA. Well done.

Efforts to exhume waste from the burial grounds next door, which began in earnest in 2005, will continue.

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.