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Bomb tests? Not again in our back yard
Deseret Morning News
May 21, 2006
By Jay Evensen

Dear Uncle Sam,

You may have a tough time figuring us out here in Utah. Generally speaking, we are a patriotic bunch. We tend to vote for law and order, and it takes more than a couple of military setbacks or insurgent strikes to make us back away from our commitment to a war — even if people in the rest of the country are more easily swayed.

Most of us still support the president, despite his low approval ratings everywhere else. Folks here don’t even seem to mind much that he wants to eavesdrop on telephone conversations without a warrant. They trust that whoever he has doing it will focus only on the bad guys, not on what people here happen to be saying to their friends.

Some may call this naivete. Many people here prefer to think of it as healthy optimism, or just faith in the virtue of the greatest nation on earth.

But Uncle, don’t even think about setting off any more big bombs in Nevada.

Even if they aren’t nuclear — go blow them up in someone else’s back yard.

Even if you argue that testing is important to the nation’s security in an age that is growing more dangerous by the day — go set ’em off in the Poconos. If they’re so safe, let ’em rip under the Allegheny Mountains. We don’t want ’em.

If there was one moment in modern history when you betrayed us, it was during those frantic Cold War years when you set off nuclear bombs in Nevada and the wind was blowing north. Don’t worry, you said. So folks here used to sit on the hoods of their cars and watch the mushroom clouds and ooh and ahh at the pretty colors overhead. Then, not long after, they started dying of strange cancers at rates far above normal.

It took many years for you to fess up to this and begin making money available as reparations. But of course, no amount of cash could bring a life back or restore a family or erase the suffering.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., recently called it “a very unfortunate history that many families are still living with in this state.” He said this while explaining why he, too — the Republican leader of a conservative pro-military state — doesn’t want any more bombs going off in Nevada.

We may love you, but we have long memories. And, frankly, we suspect you love all those people in the big cities back east a little more than us.

In reality, we weren’t the only ones harmed by those tests, but you still don’t want to come to terms with that. A recent study estimated that, nationwide, 11,000 cancer cases above and beyond what normally could be expected were caused by exposure to fallout. Virtually everyone who has lived in the lower 48 states since 1951 has been exposed to radiation to one degree or another.

But the bulk of it was felt here.

Later, you got smart and started exploding nuclear bombs underground in Nevada, to keep the fallout from spreading. When I lived in Las Vegas in the ’80s, we would regularly receive warnings, then feel the tiny, almost imperceptible shivers in the ground when these went off.

But let’s be serious here. The radiation may not have escaped into the air, but it didn’t just disappear.

Now you want to explode 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil near the places where you used to explode those underground bombs? You want to create huge mushroom clouds and you want us not to worry because you’re certain it won’t kick up any of that old radiation?

Do you also have a bridge in Brooklyn you’d like to sell us?

We’ll keep supporting the war and the president, even if gas goes to $4 a cup and we start hearing strange clicking noises on our phones.

But frankly, we’re not in a mood to buy any more of your sweet talk about bombs.


Your real-life nephew


© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company

Federal, state agencies discuss INL cleanup efforts
March 22, 2006
By Misti Lockie

TWIN FALLS — The Department of Energy and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality held a joint open house for the public Tuesday evening in Twin Falls to share information about Idaho Cleanup Project efforts at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The meeting, held in the Herrett Center on the CSI campus, showcased different aspects of the Idaho Cleanup Project through large displays and public information handouts. DOE and Idaho DEQ representatives were on hand to field questions from the public.

Contractors affiliated with the DOE also attended to assist with the open house session. Boise-based contractor CH2M-WG combines the capabilities of CH2M HILL and Washington Group International to lead the cleanup effort for DOE. No specific presentations were made.

There was a sparse turnout by the public, but those who attended were intent on the information presented.

“We are here to share the status of the Cleanup Project with the public, and provide an opportunity for folks to get information about what is going on there now and what is slated for the future,” said Alan Jines, an environmental engineer with DOE.

In addition to the public open house, the Citizens Advisory Board for disposal at the site met in Twin Falls the same day to discuss issues. Board member Dick Buxton, of Boise, feels the open house complements their work concerning waste disposal at INL.

“This [meeting] is highly necessary,” Buxton said. “I wish more of the public would come out.”

The INL and the cleanup of nuclear wastes there is in the spotlight recently because of a dispute between the state of Idaho and the DOE concerning types of waste to be removed. This dispute — although it was not the main focus of the meeting — was discussed by some who attended.

“It is important for us to be at this meeting to provide our view of the information to the public, even though we may disagree in court,” said Lezlie Aller, Idaho DEQ Division of INL Oversight and Radiation Control employee.

Twin Falls podiatrist Peter Rickards disagreed.

“What ticks me off are all these shiny pictures and the DOE and the state in a room together — my tax dollars used to advance the nuclear industry and lie to people.”

Rickards, who hopes to win a primary to run for state representative in the next election, thinks the DOE and the state are missing an important opportunity.

“We have 20 years of plutonium waste spread over 88 acres out there, just leaking into the flood zone,” Rickards said. “We have a chance to contain this now, and the state and DOE are slowly letting it leak away.”

On signs displayed at the meeting, the DEQ stated that 30,000 cubic meters of buried transuranic waste would be sent to a New Mexico site in coming years.

The DOE, however, is disputing the clarity of a 1995 agreement with the state concerning that waste. They (DOE) contend that the agreement referred only to transuranic waste stored above ground.

The decision now lies in Boise with U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

DOE representatives declined to comment on the court case. However, DEQ policy advisor and attorney Kathleen Trever stated she had testified for the state in the case.

“The type of transuranic waste, whether subsurface or above ground, is what is in dispute here,” said Trever.

According to a brochure available at the open house, the Idaho Cleanup Project covers five different areas that range from reactor sites to the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. For more information about the Idaho Cleanup Project, visit

Times-News correspondent Misti Lockie lives in Twin Falls. She can be reached at

INL to review plans for new nuclear fuel reprocessing plants
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
April 25, 2006


BOISE, Idaho — The Bush administration will rely on the Idaho National Laboratory for technical review of proposals by businesses and local government groups seeking to build a new plant to reprocess spent reactor fuel, a practice the U.S. discontinued in the 1970s because of concerns it was spurring the nuclear arms race.

“There’s a good bit of technology that we need to be a lot more sure of, and some good solid technical work that needs to be done before we would be in a position to make a decision to proceed with such a facility,” Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said Tuesday after touring INL. “Idaho is the lead laboratory for nuclear energy and they are in effect my right arm when it comes to providing that technical analysis.”

But environmental watchdogs say the administration’s renewed push to reclaim radioactive material from fuel used in commercial power reactors could be the beginning of a new generation of nuclear waste. Although the federal Department of Energy has not decided where demonstration projects to test the advanced fuel recycling technologies will be located, Jeremy Maxand of the Snake River Alliance said Idaho still bears the pollution legacy of the now-defunct reprocessing of U.S. submarine and battleship reactor fuel at the eastern Idaho compound.

“We have some very serious contamination of the Snake River aquifer that will never be completely cleaned up and was the direct result of fuel reprocessing,” said Maxand, director of the Boise-based group. “The people of Idaho have learned the lesson that reprocessing does not work, but our political leaders and DOE apparently have not.”

Congress allocated $20 million this year for the Energy Department to begin evaluating proposals for a new reprocessing facility somewhere in the U.S. The goals would be to reduce the amount of nuclear waste that must be sent to a repository and reclaim some of the spent fuel for reuse in commercial reactors.

The Bush administration is now seeking $250 million in the Energy Department’s fiscal 2007 budget request to Congress to pursue development of a test project to show that fuel recycling can be done on a large scale with processes that create less waste and contain radioactive isotopes that decay to background levels of radioactivity at a faster rate.

An Energy Department request for “expressions of interest” by private companies, individuals and local governments seeking to build one of the new nuclear fuel reprocessing plants drew 36 replies this month, including Boise-based Washington Group International; Idaho Falls-based Regional Development Alliance Inc.; Benton County, Wash.; Columbia Basin Consulting Group of Richland, Wash.; and Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions.

President Bush wants to revive reprocessing of spent fuel as part of his package of initiatives to encourage greater use of nuclear power. Advanced reprocessing is part of the Energy Department’s new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership plan, creating a nuclear fuel allocation hierarchy where countries such as the U.S. would sell reactors and nuclear fuel to developing nations for power production, then accept the used fuel from those nations for reprocessing and disposal.

Spurgeon, who oversaw nuclear fuel recycling operations in the Ford administration, said the time is right for the U.S. to reconsider President Carter’s 1977 directive to suspend commercial reprocessing of nuclear fuel.

“The flaw under President Carter was the decision to end reprocessing was done unilaterally and several other countries decided to continue forward without us,” said Spurgeon. “The idea that we relook the advantages and potential disadvantages (of reprocessing) as part of the global nuclear partnership now is very real and appropriate.”

But Carah Ong, Washington office director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said the Energy Department’s $250 million request for reprocessing money is not faring well on Capitol Hill, even though members of Congress originally asked DOE to investigate the feasibility of recycling spent fuel as a way to reduce demands on a high-level nuclear waste repository.

“There is a lot of support in Congress right now for cutting that $250 million request because the program the DOE has developed is not what many members of Congress had in mind when they started this debate,” she said. “They are starting to see this is just a bad, old, dirty idea that is being brought up again to waste taxpayers’ money on something we know doesn’t work.”