January 10, 2011
CONTACT: Snake River Alliance
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director
208-344-9161 (w); 208-871-4597 (c)

New INL Waste Shipments Defy ’95 Agreement
Snake River Alliance Warns of Sending Commercial Waste to Lab

A surprise announcement last week that the state of Idaho will allow unprecedented shipments of highly radioactive commercial nuclear waste to the Idaho National Laboratory undermines the spirit and intent of the 1995 agreement between Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy forbidding such shipments into Idaho, the Snake River Alliance said.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office issued a news release Thursday announcing a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) that waives a critical component of former Gov. Phil Batt’s 1995 agreement with the DOE and the U.S. Navy to limit future shipments of nuclear waste into Idaho for long-term storage above Idaho’s Snake River Plain Aquifer at what’s now the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

“The 1995 Batt agreement was unambiguous on one point,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff said. “It prohibits INL from accepting shipments of commercial irradiated reactor fuel, or highly radioactive waste, from commercial nuclear facilities for indefinite storage in Idaho. There can be no denying that this agreement, reached without public involvement and announced through a news release after the fact, amounts to a material change to that agreement.”

The 1995 agreement between Idaho, the Navy and DOE resolved a lawsuit filed by Idaho to challenge waste shipments to INL for storage. It was opposed by many Idahoans, primarily because it allows irradiated nuclear fuel from DOE and foreign research reactors and from the nuclear navy into Idaho. It did, however, ban commercial spent fuel shipments and has been used by the state to force cleanup of pollution at INL threatening the aquifer.

Under the new agreement announced last week, up to 400 kilograms of waste from commercial power reactors may be sent to Idaho in any given year for what DOE calls “research purposes” at INL, which in 2002 was designated the nation’s lead laboratory for nuclear energy research. It does not allow for an increase in the overall 55 metric tons of waste allowed to be shipped to Idaho, but says some of that waste can now come from commercial reactor sites.

The DOE has already acknowledged to the Alliance that no commercial nuclear entity in the United States has expressed interest in the kinds of research that the state and federal governments say will take place under last week’s agreement. Once whatever research contemplated has been completed, the target date to remove the waste is 2035. A fact sheet on the 1995 agreement currently on the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) website claims that, despite the fact the nation’s commercial nuclear reactor fleet will generate enough waste for 92,000 shipments over the next 40 years, “The Idaho agreement specifically prohibits commercial spent fuel from coming to Idaho.”

Despite this explicit prohibition against the shipment of highly radioactive commercial nuclear waste into Idaho, the governor’s news release on the new agreement says research on commercial fuel “is consistent with the spirit and intent of the 1995 agreement.” It also says the agreement “better positions the lab to meet the growing technology development and demonstration needs of the nuclear industry.”

“That’s just one of the things that concerns us,” Woodruff said. “The 1995 agreement was designed to limit future radioactive shipments into Idaho and protect the Snake River Plain Aquifer, which is the sole source of drinking water for much of southern Idaho. This new agreement essentially punches a hole in the 1995 accord, supposedly in the name of advancing the nation’s languishing commercial nuclear industry. This agreement runs counter to what most Idahoans assumed was the effect of the 1995 agreement, and putting yet more waste on top of the Snake River aquifer is a step backward, not forward.”

The Alliance also questioned why the public was not allowed to participate in discussions that led to the changes in the 15-year-old nuclear agreement. “Most troubling, however, is the precedent that is being set to allow shipments of commercial irradiated fuel into Idaho,” Woodruff said. “We have long advocated that nuclear waste be stored as safely as possible as close to its point of generation as possible. Any other policy continues to put Idaho and other western states in the bulls-eye for more and more waste storage and our environment at risk.” Woodruff said Alliance nuclear program director Beatrice Brailsford is seeking additional information about the negotiations and the agreement through the federal Freedom of Information Act and Idaho’s Public Records Law.

The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.