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On March 28, the Idaho Cleanup Project Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) resisted attempts to rush through a statement of support for bringing substantial quantities of out-of-state waste to Idaho.

The initial plan is to ship 7,000 cubic meters (and counting) of untreated transuranic (TRU) waste from the Hanford, WA, shutdown bomb plant to the Idaho National Lab. Eventually, after treatment here, the waste might go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The plan rests on ignoring numerous uncertainties, chief among them whether the waste will ever leave Idaho.

The Alliance submitted a Freedom of Information Act request last November to get more background on the plan. We’ve gotten a few documents that have helped fill in some details, and we appreciate the CAB’s efforts to get more information.

Here’s a media account of the CAB meeting.

Nuke cleanup board wants more info on out-of-state waste

The Idaho Cleanup Project Citizens Advisory Board plans to ask the Department of Energy for more information before making any recommendations about the future of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project.

After about an hour of debate on a conference call Wednesday, the board voted 5-3 to send a letter that asks the DOE to share with the board the results of a study it is doing on the benefits and effects of using the eastern Idaho plant to process transuranic waste from other sites.

The letter asks DOE questions about how it would address concerns about the effect on Idaho’s cleanup budget and about waste transportation and storage and how affected parties such as state agencies and environmental and economic development groups would be involved in the decision-making process. And, it asks how AMWTP could continue to process waste there while complying with the terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement.

“Considering the imminent completion of AMWTP’s current mission, we stress that time is of the essence,” the letter says. “The ICP CAB recommends DOE commit the resources necessary for a vigorous fact-based and open consideration of the ongoing use of this unique and valuable asset. We recognize that inaction is, by default, likely a decision to close AMWTP.”

The board decided to send this letter instead of another one that would have acknowledged some of the same issues but also explicitly asked the DOE to continue to use the plant to treat transuranic waste that is stored out of state now.

The AMWTP is compacting barrels of decades-old transuranic waste stored here before they are shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for permanent storage. The facility, which is located in the desert west of Idaho Falls, is expected to finish processing this waste sometime next year, leading to questions of what it would be used for after that and what will happen to its roughly 700 jobs.

DOE officials are evaluating whether to keep it open to treat more nuclear waste that is currently stored out of state, particularly from the Hanford Site in Washington state. Arguments in favor of keeping AMWTP open include preserving potentially hundreds of jobs, helping with the goal of cleaning up the decades-old waste located at sites throughout the country as a result of Cold War research and weapons development, and saving taxpayer money by keeping the DOE’s only “supercompactor” in operation.

“Your (the CAB board’s) recommendation really is the first step to some kind of closure,” Dana Kirkham, who is the science, technology and research director for Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said during the public comment period.

Concerns include whether keeping the facility open could be done without violating the 1995 agreement, which says any new waste brought into the state must be treated within six months and shipped out of state within another six months, and whether problems at WIPP would result in waste piling up in the state.

“We really have to consider that the infrastructure at WIPP is aging and, in that situation, accidents and problems are not going to be more rare, they’re going to be more common,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director with the watchdog group the Snake River Alliance. “If we bring waste in, it will be stranded in Idaho.”

Marc Johnson, chief of staff for former Gov. Cecil Andrus, said keeping the leverage provided by the settlement agreement is needed to compel the Department of Energy to keep its word. When Andrus was in office he fought to keep nuclear waste out of the state.

“Idaho needs to focus on finishing, in an appropriate manner, the cleanup in Idaho,” Johnson said.

Citizens Advisory Board member Brad Christensen was among those who argued in favor of sending DOE a letter backing continuing to process waste at the plant. The DOE is gathering facts and considering what to do anyway, he said.

“That’s a recommendation for a study,” he said of the letter the board ended up approving. “That’s the epitome of bureaucracy.”

A majority of board members, however, seemed to feel they needed more information before they could go on record supporting keeping the AMWTP running to process out-of-state waste.

“I think there are a lot of issues that do need to be looked at … before we can give a recommendation,” said board member Josh Bartlome.

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) wants to build 12 nuclear power reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory with a total capacity of 600 MW. UAMPS is a political subdivision of the State of Utah, and most of the reactors’ electricity would go out of state. But the project will cost the people of Idaho a lot anyway. Now, two bills in the Idaho Legislature would offer new state tax benefits to nuclear power developers.

Nuclear power uses more water than any other electricity source and produces dangerous nuclear waste. It costs more money, too. Per kilowatt, the math for the kind of small modular reactors UAMPS wants to build is even worse.

MORE WATER Nuclear power is a water hog. Of all the ways to make electricity, nuclear is the most water intensive because it uses so much for cooling. UAMPS says it has not decided on a cooling technology, but water is the likely choice. The 12-reactor power plant would use 18,000 acre feet of water per year from the Snake River Aquifer. Per kilowatt, that’s 25% more water than even full-sized nuclear reactors use. If the reactors are built, water users downstream from INL will have yet another reason to worry about nuclear impacts on the aquifer.

MORE NUCLEAR WASTE UAMPS’ modular reactors would use 40% more enriched uranium fuel than regular reactors to produce a kilowatt. That means UAMPS would produce more intensely radioactive spent nuclear fuel. There is no final repository for the spent fuel already in Idaho, and what UAMPS would produce would stay here, too.

MORE MONEY So far, the plan has cost $700 million, and if the reactors are built, the total cost will reach $3 billion. But UAMPS claims it will sell the electricity for 6.5c per kW to municipal power systems. To help get to that rate, which is still substantially higher than other electricity, UAMPS is counting on federal, state, and local subsidies. This is a well-worn path for nuclear power.

NuScale, the reactor designer, has already gotten hundreds of millions of dollars from US taxpayers. UAMPS is now looking to get federal money for half the cost of licensing the reactors. If the reactors ever go online, UAMPS will seek federal nuclear production tax credits. It will sign a 5-year lease with the Idaho National Laboratory to use 2 of its 12 reactors for research.

The Idaho State Legislature passed two bills that would give tax breaks for UAMPS should the facility be built and is considering a concurrent resolution on the project.

  • HB 591 would cap UAMPS’ county property assessment at $400 million, far less than the projected value.
  • HB 592 would exempt 1/6 of the whole plant from sales taxes because of INL’s plan to lease 2 of the 12 reactors.

 

 

 

Send your solar comments now! 

By March 9, send comments in support of solar net energy metering to: http://www.puc.idaho.gov/forms/casecomment.aspx on Idaho Power’s case IPC-E-17-13.  For suggestions on what to say to the IPUC click here.

Pocatello hearing: March 5, at 7 pm at City Council Chambers, 911 N. 7th Ave. Please attend — dressed in yellow — and show your support of solar energy.

Idaho Power feels that electric customers with solar, wind or micro-hydro are not paying their fair share. They want to put them in a separate rate class with the intent to raise rates later. The Snake River Alliance wants to defend affordable solar energy in Idaho. Studies by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs show that solar net-metering may actually lower retail electric rates. Idaho Power should encourage, not discourage, solar and distributed generation.

On March 8 and 9, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will listen to testimony from the Alliance other intervenors. You can read our most recent testimony here. We now have a webpage on Net Metering —  follow this link to see more.  Let’s keep solar affordable in Idaho!

Do you want to learn about and improve our nation’s nuclear policies? Snake River Alliance members are invited to join our team and attend the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s citizen lobby days in Washington, D.C., May 20 through May 23. Being a citizen lobbyist is a powerful way to make a change. Contact Beatrice – bbrailsford@snakeriveralliance.org – by Monday, March 5, to express interest or learn more about our 2018 “D.C. Days” citizen lobby team.

The Snake River Alliance’s Solarize the Valley program moved rooftop solar forward in Idaho. So far, 109 families across southwest Idaho installed solar panels through our program and added 763 kW to Idaho’s solar capacity. These families are just like any other Idaho Power customers, except that they produce part of their energy from solar panels measured on “net meters”. The Alliance supports these families and opposes changes in Idaho Power’s net metering program. The Alliance intervened in case #IPC-E-17-13. Public comments will be accepted until March 9, 2018.

What to say in your comments: The Idaho Public Utilities Commission should protect net metering and help keep solar affordable in Idaho. Clean energy improves our communities. Idaho Power is trying to bottle up the solar industry because the company isn’t ready for the future. The company should encourage more distributed energy generation and unleash wider innovation in the electric sector.

Idaho Power net metering customers are just like everyone else.

There is widespread public interest in solar energy in Idaho. The Alliance talked with nearly 1,000 families interested in going solar: people in urban and rural areas, families, retirees, and those with low, moderate and fixed incomes. They are just one small group of residential customers who want to generate cleaner energy.

Idaho Power’s proposal is unfair for customers with smaller solar arrays.

Most net metering customers will always buy part of their energy from Idaho Power. Under Idaho Power’s proposal, if a customer choses to install even one solar panel they would fall into a new class of customers for whom future rates and fees will be uncertain. Other customers that reduce their energy use through conservation do so without penalty. In some houses, installing a few LED light bulbs or getting a new refrigerator could have the same impact as adding a small solar system.

We need more solar, not less.

Idaho has one of the lowest solar adoption rates in the region. On September 30, 2017, Idaho had less than 1 residential solar installation per thousand persons. If the residential solar grew ten-fold, there would still be less one residential solar installation per 100 persons. Even Montana, with two-thirds our population and less sun, has more residential installs per capita. In Nevada and Utah, concerns about the growth of net metering customers have been addressed without creating a new rate classes for solar customers.

Solar won’t grow here as quickly as it has in other states. In Idaho there are no policies allowing solar leasing or power purchase agreements like in other states. Customers here must use local loans, home equity loans or cash to pay for their installations. Idaho Power’s proposal will hurt local solar businesses and green jobs and stifle innovation.

Idahoans have a right to reduce their energy bill and save money.

Solarize the Valley families invested $2.3 million in solar panels in the last two years. People have the right to make an investment to reduce their energy bill and save money. To put them into a new class of customers – for whom energy fees and rates will remain uncertain – sends the message that they are “second class” customers to Idaho Power.