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Jan 12 2017

Nuclear Updates

Barrels-of-plutonium-waste-float with caption

The Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission will meet Tuesday, January 17, from 8 am to 3 pm in the Lincoln Auditorium of the State Capitol. Here’s the agenda for the meeting, which looks as if it might be more informative than some other LINE meetings. Idaho Public TV often streams meetings in the Lincoln Auditorium. Tuesday morning go to and click on Lincoln Auditorium.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is a deep geologic repository for plutonium-contaminated US nuclear weapons waste in New Mexico. A barrel of waste exploded in February 2014 and contaminated the underground facility. On January 4, 2016, workers again put barrels in the underground. It will be slow going. WIPP’s ventilation system has been compromised, and from now on, workers will be weighed down with heavy protective gear. Waste shipments from other Department of Energy sites, including the Idaho National Laboratory, will not begin for months.

On January 12, 2016, NuScale will submit its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to certify the design of its small modular reactor (SMR). If the NRC determines the application is complete, it will take about 3 years to review the design. NuScale wants to build an array of 12 of its SMRs underground and underwater at the Idaho National Laboratory. The reactors would be owned by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS). Idaho Falls Power is the only Idaho electric utility that’s a member of UAMPS. No Idaho residents downstream from the proposed reactors would receive power from them.

Wendy Wilson, Tony West, Beatrice Brailsford and Liz Paul Alliance’s "Safe Side of the Fence" film tour, 2016.

When you think of 2016 what will you remember? We saw some environmental high points such as the signing of the Paris Climate Accord and the amazing solidarity shown by the Dakota water keepers. Yes, citizens can make a difference!

But to be frank, 2016 had some dangerous low points, too. The most ominous was our President-elect’s recent statements toying with the idea of starting a new nuclear arms race.

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Our nation already has 1,930 deployed nuclear bombs – how many more do we need? That’s why your financial support of the Alliance has never been more important.

The fossil fuel and nuclear industries are clearly gearing up to strike back. There was an announcement in 2016 that a commercial nuclear reactor may soon be sited in Idaho. This would come only with more million of dollars of public expense – and federal subsidies of nuclear power are already enormous.

2016 was an exciting year for the Alliance! Hundreds of our members and allies attended a public meeting to keep Idaho from becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump. And – in part because of our actions – the Department of Energy has slowed down the push to “consolidate” commercial nuclear waste in Idaho.

Overall, it was a great year for clean energy. The Alliance’s energy program clearly paid off big in 2016. We now have eight new commercial-scale solar energy facilities in Idaho and nearby Oregon counties! The Alliance proudly ran our first “solarize” campaign and installed more than $1 million of rooftop solar panels.

The Alliance will be playing defense throughout 2017 because some of our most important victories are in danger of being erased with the stroke of a pen. The new administration may see “government red tape” where the rest of us see needed public health standards.

Overall, 2017 is looking ominous for environmental protection. Your gift to the Alliance today is crucially important to our success. Please help the Alliance meet our goal to raise $50,000 by the end of January to protect Idaho’s clean energy future.

The Alliance will fight to maintain our victories and prove again that local organizing is a powerful force. Please donate today and help “jump start” our next good year of local action with strength and solidarity.

there-is-a-place-in-the-desertArt soothes the soul. For every additional $100 you contribute to the Alliance, you will get another chance to win a beautiful 2’ by 3’ oil painting by artist Tim Norton of Pocatello (from our 2016 “Holding What Can’t be Held” art show). Please reach a little deeper this year and help us meet these new challenges.

Today’s News: TTrain Shipment Nuclear Waste in Idahohe nuclear Navy will build a new, $1.65 billion spent fuel storage facility in Idaho by 2024.

Since 1957, the waste from ALL of our nation’s nuclear-powered vessels has come to Idaho.

These shipments are allowed under the 1995 Settlement Agreement. Until the early 1990s, the nuclear Navy’s spent fuel was reprocessed, which turned it into an intensely radioactive liquid. But there are still about 32 tons of Navy spent fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Naval Reactors Facility (NRF). The new facility will replace the NRF’s 1958-vintage storage pool, which has grown increasingly unsafe because of deferred maintenance. The new facility will handle and store nuclear Navy spent fuel until at least 2060.

About 20 tons of nuclear waste have come in since the Agreement was signed. The State of Idaho cannot stop these shipments as it can those from the Department of Energy. So even now, when the DOE’s shipments are suspended because of problems in the cleanup program, the nuclear Navy’s shipments continue.

The only Addendum to the 1995 Agreement was negotiated in 2008 and requires that the nuclear Navy remove most of its spent fuel from Idaho by 2035. After that, it can bring in more spent fuel as long as its stockpile here is never more than nine metric tons.

Bottom Line: The nuclear Navy’s activities are generally shrouded in secrecy, and we must be vigilant to protect the public. A weakness of the 1995 Settlement Agreement was that it did not block Navy waste. However, over the years, we have come to appreciate the Agreement’s other strengths – bolstering the INL cleanup program, and banning new commercial spent fuel. It may not be permanent, but INL might be a storage site for nuclear Navy waste for more than a century.



The Alliance has Two Missions One Bright Future

Nuclear Containment   Flickering monitors lined the green walls of a large room. I fell into an uncomfortable plastic chair, exhausted from a long day on the Arco desert. Inside the 3-foot thick walls of this huge building the only noise I could hear was the hum of Integrated Waste Treatment Unitflorescent ceiling lights.

I needed to sit still and take in the scene in the control room of one of our nation’s hoped-for high-level liquid nuclear waste treatment facility – the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit. It looked like a Hollywood set from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Actually, the IWTU is a little like a movie set because it has never operated. Construction of this facility started 10 years ago. And despite nearly a billion dollars of tax money, it has yet to begin its important mission to solidify some of America’s liquid nuclear waste. Not because of a faulty “warp drive” or unstable dilithium crystals – but because of a years-long cascade of problems, both management and technical, the latest a jammed mechanical grinder. We are forever hopeful that maybe next year, with more tax money, it will work.

The nuclear industry still wants us to believe that splitting the atom is cleaner than coal. For many reasons that is not true – safety concerns at nuclear plants, the threat of nuclear proliferation, nuclear worker health, cost of operations and waste disposal. But in Idaho, these claims especially sting.

The lie about the prospects for clean nuclear energy hurts – in part — because we are in the middle of a $20 billion cleanup of nuclear contamination that isn’t even close to finished. But mostly because, for more than 60 years, nuclear materials have been brought here, made here and otherwise left here – perched above the Snake River Aquifer – always with a promise that it was clean and safe.

Renewable Energy  It has been a year since the Paris Climate Accord launched the world into something bigger than a space race – a race to create a zero-emission energy future. The USA has the largest per-capita energy consumption and the most energy infrastructure, so we have the most changes to make. But, we also have more financial resources and a democratic government that can (if it wants to) make change happen quickly.

When the Alliance started planning for the 2016 Solarize the Valley campaign, Idaho had fewer solar installations than almost any other state. We haven’t changed that in one year, but we made rooftop solar easier and more affordable for 45 households and installed over $900,000 worth of solar panels.

Next year, the Alliance will represent our members fighting for the future of Net Energy Metering – a critical policy that empowers citizen investments in renewables – against the electric industry that has dismantled it most famously in Arizona but also in Nevada and has its eyes on Florida and Idaho. The Alliance will help make the public case that it is time to close the North Valmy coal plant and replace it with renewables and conservation. And we will help stop Idaho utilities from spending more money on the aging Wyoming coal plants, Jim Bridger Units I & II.

It matters what happens on the Idaho desert  Nuclear power makes no sense for Idaho because of our abundant hydropower, sun and wind. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that the nuclear industry is planning to bring NuScale’s cluster of new “small modular reactors” to Eastern Idaho. If the industry persists with this multi-billion dollar proposal, the Alliance will dig in against this nationally heralded “last stand” for nuclear power.

From the outside, with the blue sky reflecting off this huge metal box, any unsuspecting tourist would guess that the IWTU was a food processing plant. But instead of a loading dock for potato trucks, there is a huge blue door on an air-locked cargo bay where huge concrete caskets of solidified nuclear waste will someday to be shuttled around on a surface of compressed air like hovercraft.

On the inside, the building is old before its time, paint chipped from construction and testing and retesting. In the control room, I the operator explains that the blinking monitors are an upgrade from earlier equipment that didn’t work well in an emergency. Now the monitors will be more helpful in an emergency, the operators will be able to evacuate and the facility will automatically shut down.

I’m glad the IWTU is ready for an unplanned shut down, but we don’t know if or when the facility will be turned on. As a nation we’ve already spent way too much time developing nuclear energy that is still neither clean nor affordable. That’s ok — there is still time to change the direction of our starship – and energy infrastructure across the world. So the time is now for the Snake River Alliance to stay very busy “solarizing” and democratizing our one bright energy future.

If you need proof that Idaho clean energy champions never disappoint, look no further than the Snake River Alliance’s successful solar program to help southwest Idaho residents install sun power on their on rooftops and become more energy self-sufficient in the bargain.

The Alliance’s groundbreaking “Solarize the Valley” program to boost rooftop solar installations on Idaho homes far exceeded expectations. We set a target of 250 kilowatts (kW) of new rooftop solar installations, and we’re closing in on 300 kW! That translates to $911,513 in new rooftop solar investments in Ada and Canyon counties alone, and our tireless solar installer partner, AltEnergy, reports it added five new positions to meet this new demand for solar power.roofpanelforweb

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