Nuclear hearing draws big crowd
March 16, 2007
By Paul Menser
It’s too early in the process to say how the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is going to play out, but one thing resonated clearly at a hearing Thursday night in Idaho Falls: If the U.S. Department of Energy plans to get back into the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, eastern Idaho’s leaders want the work done here.
More than 350 people turned out for the hearing, which topped the number of people who showed up for hearings in Hanford, Wash., or Aiken, S.C.
“I didn’t realize we had all of Idaho Falls here tonight,” said Barry Lawson, the hearing’s moderator.
“Obviously, were seeing the mobilization of a lot of people in support of this,” said Richard L. Black, associate deputy assistant secretary in the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Power Deployment.
Although some well-known nuclear energy foes were signed up to give testimony — Beatrice Braillsford of the Snake River Alliance and Peter Rickards of Twin Falls — dozens of people preceded them to voice their support for putting the GNEP in eastern Idaho.
The project represents the United States’ bid to get back into the forefront of nuclear power development. The DOE is proposing to build a reprocessing plant for spent commercial nuclear fuel, a reactor to use the reprocessed fuel and generate electricity, and a research and development center.
Thirteen applicants in eight states are in the running for it, including two in Idaho. A decision from the secretary of energy is expected in June 2008.
Depending on what Congress decides, the project could involve billions of dollars and create thousands of jobs.
Two themes were reiterated at Thursday night’s hearing. First, with concerns increasing about greenhouse gases, nuclear power is the best alternative to coal for baseload power. Second, eastern Idaho, once home to the world’s largest concentration of nuclear reactors, has the expertise to get the GNEP done.
“All of us are proud of our work here over the years,” said John Flinn, president of the INL Retired Employees Association. “We pioneered technologies that will be the building blocks of the GNEP.”
Braillsford, who has been with the Snake River Alliance since 1987, said she was used to being outnumbered at hearings such as the one held Thursday.
Nevertheless, she said it is important for the minority’s voice to be heard. The Snake River Alliance doesn’t view the GNEP as a research project or a recycling plan. Nor does it view it as an effective response to global warming, and it believes the turnaround the DOE has scheduled for a decision is not enough time.
“This process in important,” she said. “Fifteen months doesn’t actually give a lot of time for dialogue.”
There are two remaining hearings to be held in the GNEP scoping process — one in Washington, D.C., and the last in Hood River, Ore.
“This is the very beginning,” said Tammy L. Way, who handles corporate communications and external affairs for the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “This is really for the DOE to go out and listen to the public.”
For more information
For more information on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, visit www.gnep.energy.gov. Written comments in the programmatic environmental impact statement process will be accepted through April 4.