Nuke plan has key glitch
By Dan Boyd
Idaho State Journal
March 16, 2007

IDAHO FALLS — Department of Energy officials acknowledged Thursday a proposed nuclear energy program could run contrary to a 12-year- old agreement banning the importation of spent nuclear fuel into Idaho.

“If Idaho is looked at as a site, the issue of bringing nuclear fuel into the state will have to be discussed,” said Ray Furstenau, the deputy manager of nuclear energy for DOE in Idaho. But Furstenau, who led a public scoping meeting Thursday night in Idaho Falls, said the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership could be a boon for the Gem State and doesn’t possess some of the same safety hazards as previous federal nuclear programs.

The DOE awarded in January more than $10 million for detailed siting studies at 11 different sites in eight states. Two Idaho sites — Atomic City and the Idaho National Laboratory — received about $1.6 million for their respective bids.

Current designs for the global energy program, commonly referred to as GNEP, include three facilities in the United States.

Those facilities — a nuclear fuel research and development center, an advanced nuclear fuel recycling center and an advanced nuclear fuel reactor — could put the chosen site at the forefront of nuclear energy development. “This will help address growing concerns about global climate change and pollution,” said DOE spokesman Tim Jackson. “We’re hearing that people are really resonating to the idea of extracting the maximum energy off the spent nuclear fuel.” Thursday’s meeting in Idaho Falls is one of the last of a series of meetings held at or near the 11 proposed sites.

Furstenau said the comments received at such meetings will be taken into account before DOE issues a draft environmental impact statement this summer. After a site is eventually chosen, Furstenau said construction is expected to last for as long as 10 years before the new facilities go on line, sometime between 2020 and 2025.

GNEP, an initiative launched by President George Bush in 2006, seeks to promote international cooperation by improving the efficiency of nuclear reprocessing and limiting the means to make nuclear weapons. Unlike past technology that could only extract about 10 percent of nuclear fuel’s overall energy potential, proponents of the program say new technology could greatly increase that number and, in doing so, reduce toxicity levels and the risk of nuclear proliferation.

“It’s not like the old-style reprocessing,” Jackson said. But not all Americans are embracing the proposal. More than 30 groups from across the country reportedly signed onto a letter asking the DOE to extend the scoping period beyond its current April 4 deadline.

In the Idaho Legislature, members of the House of Representatives threw their backing behind GNEP earlier this week, voting 56-9 in support of the program’s goals. All Eastern Idaho lawmakers voted in favor of the memorial, which carried only symbolic implications.

But if GNEP lands in Idaho the situation could be complicated by the Batt agreement, a 1995 contract former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt struck with the federal government not to bring nuclear fuel into Idaho.

Though challenged in years following its enactment, the agreement has, thus far, withstood the test of time.