Who can blame Idaho Gov. Phil Batt for distrusting the Navy and the Energy Department?
In his second week of office, Batt got flogged politically for allowing eight loads of radioactive waste to be shipped to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. He had hoped to open a dialogue with the federal government about the permanent storage of highlevel nuclear waste somewhere other than Idaho.
Instead, Batt quickly learned he was dealing with tricky devils who hid things from him while trying to dupe him into taking more highly radioactive spent fuel rods. Now, he’s mad, entrenched - possibly more so than former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who fought the shipments for six years - and ready to sic the Idaho State Police on anyone who tries to bring nuclear waste into Idaho.
Batt needs to be hard-nosed and vigilant.
The INEL was meant to be a nuclear research facility, but the federal government would love to make it into a de facto national repository for nuclear waste.
The Justice Department showed its true intentions recently by petitioning U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to completely lift the May 19 ban on new waste shipments or at least order the state to accept 12 more shipments from the Navy before the end of June. The state of Idaho has until today to respond to the government’s action.
Eventually, the Energy Department probably will force Batt and Idaho to accept Navy nuclear waste on national-security grounds. But Batt clearly is reflecting the will of his constituents by fighting those shipments and making three demands: Idaho will accept new waste shipments only after significant progress is made toward opening a permanent dump elsewhere, a deadline is set for moving waste out of the state, and penalties are established for missing the deadline.
Despite government assurances of safety, people fear radioactivity will leak from nuclear-waste containers.
A February poll by Louis Harris and Associates showed 88 percent of Idahoans opposed further waste shipments. In Tacoma Monday, hundreds told Energy Department officials they don’t want nuclear waste shipped through the Port of Tacoma en route to burial sites at the INEL and South Carolina.
Of course, nuclear waste has to go somewhere.
Maybe the Energy Department and the Navy would have found that permanent site by now - if they were truly looking for it.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board