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The Threat of Hanford Waste in Idaho

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The Department of Energy wants to bring 7,000 cubic meters of untested plutonium-contaminated waste to Idaho from the shutdown nuclear bomb plant in Hanford, WA. The waste would come in by truck or railroad, crossing the Columbia and Snake rivers and passing through southern Idaho headed to the Idaho National Laboratory. It would be then be treated at the INL and – in theory – trucked to New Mexico for permanent disposal.

But if history repeats itself, much of this waste could be stranded in Idaho perhaps forever. The INL became a nuclear dump for the federal government starting in the 1950s. Too often waste has come in on an “interim” basis and not left.

This legacy of broken promises runs deep. The Snake River Alliance is now kicking off a wider public effort called Don’t Waste Idaho to draw attention to this problem. We because yielding to federal plans to bring more waste to Idaho is just too dangerous.

Idaho’s Agreement Threatened The 1995 Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement was supposed to protect Idaho against becoming a de-facto dump. The people of Idaho supported this agreement then and we need them to support it now.

One of the most important provisions of the Settlement Agreement is a one-year time limit on nuclear waste coming into Idaho for treatment. That has worked for many years, and small quantities of waste have come in, been treated, and left.

Now the federal government wants to erase the one-year time limit from the agreement for the Hanford waste. There is too much to be treated, stabilized, and shipped out in year. Even if nothing goes wrong, some waste would be stranded in Idaho for some amount of time – and something certainly could go wrong!

Waste Removal Slowed by Accidents The Waste Isolation Pilot Project is the only deep geologic nuclear waste repository in the US. Thousands of shipments have gone there starting in 1998. But two accidents in 2014 shut it down. It reopened last year on a reduced basis because of contamination that cannot be removed. Workers must now wear full protective gear in the underground facility, which limits their mobility. Overused equipment is also slowing things down.

The Department of Energy admits that WIPP can’t take waste quickly enough to meet Idaho’s Settlement Agreement, but argues it would be too costly to ship it back to Hanford. Idaho would be left holding the barrels.

Idaho’s Own Cleanup The INL has one of the best nuclear cleanup programs in the country. Even so, the timeline keeps slipping and the project won’t be done until 2060. The INL needs to focus on cleaning up Idaho.

The INL’s Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project has treated nearly 65,000 cubic meters of INL’s stored plutonium waste and prepared it for shipment to permanent disposal sites out of Idaho. This will be finished in about a year. But, because of problems at WIPP, thousands of barrels of treated waste are just sitting there waiting to be shipped out.

Cleaning up the contamination already at INL must remain Idaho’s Number One Priority. The already scheduled cleanup efforts will help protect the Snake River Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for 300,000 people. But that’s only going to happen if Idaho’s cleanup isn’t interrupted by out-of-state waste, including the proposed Hanford shipments.

Transportation Across Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho In 2010 and 2011, Hanford shipped some plutonium-contaminated waste to Idaho. The State of Oregon allowed the shipments because the waste had been tested and none of it contained prohibited materials. It was treated, stabilized, and sent on to WIPP within the framework of the Settlement Agreement.

These next shipments will be different. The thousands of cubic meters of waste left at Hanford haven’t been tested and will be more dangerous and difficult to ship. The State of Oregon has already said shipping protocols would have to be changed. DOE wants to ship this untested, untreated nuclear waste across the Columbia River and the Blue Mountains, through some of Idaho’s most populated and fertile regions. It would follow the Snake River and be in temporary storage before and after treatment.

Please help carry the word! Go to www.dontwasteidaho.org for more information: Tell Idaho’s Governor and Attorney General to stand up to pressure from deep-pocketed energy interests and keep Idahoans—and the land and water we depend on—safe from nuclear waste! Tell them:

Idahoans refuse to become the federal government’s dump for stranded nuclear waste. When it comes to Idahoans’ health, access to clean and safe drinking water and recreational and agricultural lands, Idaho’s elected leaders must keep people fully informed about the risks of nuclear waste.

In 1995, Idaho’s Republican governor negotiated a Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement that ended our status as a default waste dump for the Feds. This agreement requires that the government clean up nuclear pollution. It must store waste that is already here more safely and move much of it out of Idaho for permanent disposal. Nuclear waste brought in for treatment must be removed within one year.

Now the Feds are going back on their word and trying to bring in even more untreated nuclear waste from Hanford in Eastern Washington. It’s up to Idaho’s Governor and Attorney General to stand up and protect Idaho’s people and clean water.

Nuclear waste threatens clean drinking water for one-fifth of Idaho’s population. Since the 1950s, our state has been a dump for some of the most dangerous waste in the country. Contaminated materials were buried above Idaho’s groundwater and even pumped into the Snake River Aquifer.

The Snake River Aquifer spans more than 10,000 square miles and is the sole source  of drinking water for more than 300,000 Idahoans. It holds twice as much water as Lake Erie. According to the State of Idaho, “Water beneath the INL probably takes about 150 to 250 years to travel to Thousand Springs.”

 We must stop more nuclear waste from coming into Idaho, traveling through Idaho’s most populous communities on our public highways and train tracks, and then never leaving. 

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