But now those concerns appear to have been swept under the rug. Instead, the DOE is focused on searching for a place “out West” to send the radioactive legacy of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The DOE and its INL contractor, Battelle, are proposing to bring spent nuclear fuel from a commercial power plant in Indiana to Idaho — if the Idaho Attorney General lets them.
But why would he? The DOE has failed to meet countless deadlines to clean up the nuclear contamination that is already here. DOE’s reputation for missing deadlines once led former Gov. Cecil Andrus to compare the agency to the Boise used car dealership “Fairly Reliable Bob’s.”
The most current missed deadline is that the DOE has not been able to treat 900,000 gallons of intensely radioactive liquid waste already stored at the INL. Recent failures at the plant have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. There is no certainty that the nearly $1 billion treatment system will ever work. And more clean up deadlines will surely be missed if the Attorney General lets this slide or blinks at the negotiating table.
In the meantime, this extremely dangerous waste is being stored in buried tanks decades of years old hovering over the Snake River Plain Aquifer. Although INL’s tanks have never leaked, as far as we know, the pipes and valves connecting them have. Unless the public today demands that the high-level waste from those leaks is effectively cleaned up, it may always be in our soil and groundwater.
Idaho has a long history with the toxic impacts of nuclear contamination. The McClatchy News Agency recently reported that there have been nearly 400 nuclear-related deaths associated with the INL. Far more people have been sickened by their work there.
But we also have a long history of fighting back. Twenty-five years ago, a Magic Valley fish farmer raised the alarm about plutonium shipments coming from Colorado to be buried on top of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The public was outraged. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus stepped up and Gov. Batt forged a nuclear waste settlement agreement with the DOE banning future imports of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants until specific time tables for clean up were met.
Today, those deadlines are not being met and the Byron nuclear waste proposed to come to INL clearly falls under the ban. The waste is currently being stored safely where it is in Indiana. It is unfathomable to me and other members of the Snake River Alliance why Idaho’s Attorney General should be expected to sign a “waiver” to allow the feds to bring it here.
There is already plutonium buried above the Snake River Aquifer, perhaps till the end of time. Let’s not let our elected representatives forget that in the rush for more jobs at INL. Our land and water will continue to be at risk until our political leaders put the health and safety of Idahoans ahead of DOE’s broken promises.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is doing the right thing by forcing the DOE to be accountable to our hard-won nuclear waste settlement agreement and to meet the agency’s own deadlines. Idahoans shouldn’t become lab animals for nuclear malfunction.
The stakes in this stare-down game are high. The nation continues to look westward for a place to put the dangerous mate! rials generated by the nuclear industry that will be “out-of-sight” and politically “out-of-mind.” Since there is no national plan for a permanent repository, what comes here today will stay here for decades, if not forever.
Idahoans must unite, stand together and tell the federal government to focus on INL’s existing nuclear experiment – cleaning up what is already here.
Wendy Wilson is the interim executive director of the Snake River Alliance, Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and advocate for clean energy. For more information about the alliance visit www.snakeriveralliance.org.
This editorial was published on May 1st, 2016 in the Idaho State Journal http://idahostatejournal.com/members/who-will-protect-idaho/article_b2ed0bf0-8287-5088-b016-6e8c61d3cf38.html and in the Idaho Statesman on April 25, 2016 at http://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article74125087.html