Business hours at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ended Friday evening without the appellate judges authorizing the Navy to immediately resume dumping nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
The appellate court took no action on the federal government’s request that it at least modify U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge’s May 19 continuation of a two-year ban so the Navy could make at least a dozen shipments to the INEL.
The Navy had scheduled six shipments to leave its Newport News, Va., shipyard Friday evening if the appellate court had allowed them. Another six would have left Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by July 15.
There was still a possibility of an after-hours order, but a court official said that was highly unlikely Friday night.
And state attorneys said it would take days for the Virginia train to reach Idaho, giving them time to pursue options that they declined to discuss. The train is required to move at no more than 35 miles an hour.
When the original shipment ban was imposed in 1993, a waste shipment that was en route to INEL was turned back in Wyoming.
The head of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, Adm. Bruce DeMars, has argued since 1992 that any cessation of waste shipments to Idaho would jeopardize national security. Without relief, DeMars has said, the refueling of the nuclear carrier USS Nimitz and its return to the war fleet will be delayed and a cruiser and two submarines scheduled for decommissioning will have to remain tied to the dock with their radioactive fuel waste stored on board.
But the state of Idaho has repeatedly argued that the government’s claim of a national security emergency is of its own making. It has cited the government’s failure to even go to court for relief until June 15 even though the schedule for refueling and defueling those ships has been known for months.
In addition, the state claimed the government looked at absolutely no alternative to resuming waste shipments to Idaho immediately after Lodge agreed the state needed more time to prepare its court challenge of the federal conclusion that another 165 tons of waste could be safely dumped at INEL. The government has already stored 261 tons there.
Waste shipments were suspended in 1993 by U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan until the government completed a comprehensive environmental study that showed additional storage would not threaten health or the environment.
While that study was completed this spring and its conclusion certified on June 1, the state contends it failed to fully consider the safety and health hazards that existing stored waste already presents.
And environmental groups have maintained that the government study did not include a large quantity of buried waste that has not been carried on INEL waste inventories.
The state also said in a brief filed with the appellate court on Thursday that the Energy Department in a May 17 memorandum to an aide to Gov. Phil Batt threatened to suspend environmental cleanup projects at INEL if the state contested the conclusion of the environmental study.
Government spokesman Brad Bugger denied that claim on Friday. He said the information about suspended cleanup projects was provided at the request of the governor’s office, which he said wanted to know the ramifications of any delay in resuming waste shipments.
“It was generated at their request, for Christ’s sake,” Bugger said. “There was never any threat.”
Batt spokeswoman Amy Kleiner disagreed with that assertion and said the state stands by its brief.