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Federal, state agencies discuss INL cleanup efforts
Times-News
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 www.idahocleanupproject.com.

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

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

By CHRISTOPHER SMITH
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

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.”