Recently the Public News Service printed an article about radioactive soil from Australia being shipped and stored in Idaho. We at the Snake River Alliance thought we would share with our supporters the efforts we took for this story to see the light of day.

We were contacted by a concerned person (“J” ) late summer 2021 who said that they were an “industry insider”. The information “J”  provided raised serious concerns. “J”  told us that US Ecology in Grandview, ID was about to receive a shipment of radioactive contaminated earth from Australia. Grandview lies 50 miles upriver from Boise on the Snake River near Mountain Home, ID.

“J” seemed to be saying the analysis was statistically manipulated so that it could be sent to the US legally. “J” said that New South Wales had Australian Nuclear Science and Technology sample the waste. “The first results showed there was enough uranium and thorium to be regulated as wastes. This was not desired so sampling was directed further afield until the statistics brought it under regulatory levels” which enabled export across the ocean to us in Idaho.

“Radium Girl' dial painter who suffered from a radium-induced sarcoma of the chin, c.1920's

“Radium Girl’ dial painter who suffered from a radium-induced sarcoma of the chin, c.1920’s

This led the Snake River Alliance to begin researching the validity of the whistleblowers’ claim. We found that this radioactive waste is from a former mill site called Hunters Hill on Sydney Harbor which is now one of the richest, most affluent neighborhoods in Australia. Ore from Radium Hill in Australia used to be sent to Hunters Hill to create radium for watch dials.

Unable to find any printed official messaging we requested a hearing with Idaho DEQ and were contacted by Brian English, the Hazardous Waste Permits Supervisor. Mr. English said that this has been in the works for years but was delayed because of the deadly explosion in 2018 then again because of Covid. He said US Ecology has a permit to store this waste at the Idaho facility, but he didn’t know who approved it to come to the US from Australia or how we know the waste can legally be stored here.

We then tried to contact US Ecology for more information. Our request did not produce any usable information. From there we turned to our Snake River Alliance members and allies for any information on US Ecology. We were informed that the company employs a powerful lobbying group and that we were likely to not get anywhere with our elected representatives in Idaho. 

We emailed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) general allegations hotline, the Office of International and Tribal Affairs and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance within the EPA to ask how the waste was approved for shipment across the Pacific Ocean and through our communities. No response.* Undeterred, we turned to a local contact Marissa “Molly” Snapp, Environmental Director for the Sho-Pai tribe. Southwestern Idaho is part of their traditional lands and the Sho-Pai reservation lies 88 miles south of the US Ecology dump. We thought at the very least they would know something. Ms. Snapp was kind enough to return our call and said they had not been informed either. 

Finally, we contacted Tami Thatcher of the Environmental Defense Institute who supplied us with a wealth of information about US Ecology. Check out their most recent newsletter piece “US Ecology Idaho Grand View is virtually unregulated and not designed for the radioactive waste it is accepting from around the country and around the world”.

With this information we were able to contact the public news service and they agreed to research further to see if there was a story, and there was. While our focus has been protecting the Snake River aquifer underneath Idaho National Laboratory, we will continue to monitor this situation as it develops. It shouldn’t be so easy to dump a bunch of radioactive material from Australia in our home.

*Update: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) replied late February to the email I sent to the allegations hotline. Essentially NRC contacted US Ecology for information regarding the waste. NRC took US Ecology at it’s word that the waste is legally being sent here. We are not sure what analyses US Ecology provided NRC such that NRC could make an informed conclusion but you can be sure we will respond and do not put blind trust in US Ecology or NRC.