Several Democratic senators on Wednesday called for halting nuclear waste shipments to Idaho until the federal government resumes the search for an alternative.
Former Idaho congressman Richard Stallings announced late Tuesday that he is closing the federal Nuclear Waste Negotiator’s office in about a week due to lack of federal funding. Stallings has headed the agency, with offices in Boise and Washington, D.C., for more than a year.
The office was created in 1987 to find 25- to 40-year storage for the nuclear waste generated by the nation’s approximately 100 nuclear power plants. Despite discussions with various governors and Indian tribes over the past eight years, no site for the reactors’ waste ever materialized.
“Their (the plants’) wet pools are filling up with the spent fuel,” said Stallings. The federal Department of Energy has promised to take possession of the fuel by 1998. It could be left on-site at the plants, he said, but “there’s a large number that have just run out of space.”
The Department of Energy plans eventually to entomb commercial waste at a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But the site is still being studied, with opening scheduled for after the turn of the century.
With the search for an interim site stopped, Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, and other senators feel nuclear waste could come to Idaho and stay here.
“This is a very scary omen,” Reed said.
Former Gov. Cecil Andrus warned two weeks ago that the state is opening the door to radioactive waste by allowing eight shipments of U.S. Navy nuclear waste to go the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory near Idaho Falls. Andrus fought - and lost - a high-profile battle against such shipments in 1991.
Gov. Phil Batt has said he had little choice but to allow the shipments. The Navy would have prevailed in court on grounds of national security, he said.
The federal Energy Department has proposed long-term temporary storage of highlevel nuclear waste in Idaho, South Carolina and Washington. Under the proposal, INEL would store all Navy waste. South Carolina’s Savannah River site would store spent foreign reactor fuel. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation would store spent fuel from its own reactors. A final decision is due in June.
It’s not clear whether the Navy waste would ever be moved to Nevada.
Gov. Batt last week hinted that Idaho may lose its fight against becoming a permanent nuclear dump.
He has said he would fight hard against such a move. If the federal government forced Idaho to accept the waste, he said, the state would demand billions in compensation. “I think the governor’s between a rock and a hard place,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Sweeney of Lewiston.
“There’s going to be no answer to this until we get a permanent repository,” Batt said Wednesday.
Senate Democrats said they’ll ask fellow lawmakers to approve a formal letter to the federal government.
They want the Navy shipments halted until the federal government restores funds for the search.
“The governor accepted on good faith these shipments from the Navy on the short term,” said Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill.
“We feel that with the loss of this (Stallings) office, that site will be permanent.”
“The people of Idaho feel betrayed,” he said.
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Roesler Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.