Despite likely severe political fallout, Gov. Phil Batt offered Thursday to permit nearly 1,000 new shipments of highly radioactive waste to be dumped in Idaho over the next 40 years if the federal government guarantees all waste - old and new - will be removed by 2036.
And the Republican governor, flanked by his predecessor Democrat Cecil Andrus, gave the U.S. Energy Department and the nuclear Navy until midday Tuesday to accept or reject what he termed “our final best offer.”
“If they don’t accept the offer, we will be back in court fighting vigorously against any new shipments,” Batt said.
Andrus, who began the confrontation with the federal government over waste storage at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1988, endorsed the deal in what he said is an effort “to take it out of politics and put it in the realm of what is right and good for Idaho.”
“The Navy and DOE will be making a serious mistake if they don’t accept it,” Andrus said.
Batt apparently made his offer public in an attempt to put pressure on the Clinton administration to accept it. Despite the likelihood that it will be criticized by many of the 90 percent of Idaho residents who object to any additional waste dumping, the governor indicated that the deal was motivated by a desire to fulfill Idaho’s responsibility to the nation’s security while protecting the thousands of jobs and economic activity at INEL.
The deal would eliminate concern over refueling nuclear warships so they can return to the fleet but offers no real relief to the federal government and its mandate to take over storage of all commercial waste in three years.
The government had proposed dumping another 165 tons of highly radioactive material - 1,940 shipments - in Idaho over the next four decades on top of the 261 tons already stored at INEL. Batt’s deal, to be enforced by the federal court, restricts new dumping to 97 tons - 968 shipments - in that period and guarantees the eventual removal of all waste.
The offer, detailed in an 11-page settlement agreement, limits the number of annual shipments and imposes a $100,000-a-day fine, adjusted for inflation, to begin on Jan. 1, 2036, if any radioactive material is still stored at INEL.
In addition, it would require all 65,000 cubic meters of low-level, transuranic waste now stored at INEL to begin being shipped to the low-level waste dump being prepared in New Mexico in May 1999 and be completely removed from Idaho by the end of 2015. If specific benchmarks for movement of that material are not met, all new waste shipments would immediately stop.
The same penalty would be imposed if an extra $290 million is not provided to accelerate cleanup of existing waste sites at INEL and if specific benchmarks for that activity are not met.
Batt declined to assess the prospects of his deal being accepted by the Clinton administration, but he conceded that it precludes the dumping of any commercial waste - other than just over 8 tons from a failed commercial reprocessing plant in New York.
That was a deal breaker in negotiations last week in Minneapolis between Batt and top federal officials, who are under a congressional mandate to take responsibility for commercial waste in 1998. And Batt said that while “minor adjustments” could be made to his offer, exclusion of commercial waste is non-negotiable.
The governor’s public disclosure of the proposal came after months of negotiations between state and federal officials, prompted by the growing support in Congress to mandate resumption of waste shipments from the nuclear Navy on Oct. 1 despite an existing federal court order banning them.
As he did when that court order was first imposed in mid-1993, Adm. Bruce DeMars, head of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, warned Congress that national security would be undermined if more spent fuel could not be stored at INEL so nuclear warships could be refueled and returned to duty.
He also said failure to refuel those ships would mean thousands of layoffs at naval shipyards in states of key members of Congress.
It worked to force Andrus into a deal in 1993 that allowed limited shipments. And under that same kind of pressure, all the members of Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation - except for conservative freshman Rep. Helen Chenoweth - conceded that if pushed to a vote, mandated dumping would win congressional approval.
The House Appropriations Committee has already adopted the mandate, and the full Senate will reportedly consider a similar proposition next Tuesday.
Because of that, Batt has modified his early staunch opposition to permitting any new dumping in an effort to secure a guaranteed deadline for waste removal from the state as well as assurances on cleanup and new projects at INEL.
Since June 1993, waste shipments to INEL have been limited to 27 while the government conducted a comprehensive assessment of the potential health and environmental hazards from dumping more waste.
That assessment, completed earlier this year, concluded more waste could be dumped safely, but the state is contesting that conclusion.
U.S District Judge Edward Lodge extended the court’s original shipment ban until he rules in September or October on the state’s contention that more waste cannot be safely dumped at INEL.
The Navy, however, has appealed that decision, and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments within three weeks.
This sidebar appeared with the story: BATT’S TERMS Highlights of Gov. Phil Batt’s offer to the federal government for voluntary resumption of nuclear dumping at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory: Idaho will accept all 575 waste shipments from the nuclear Navy and another 393 shipments of non-military government waste through 2035. Only 24 Navy shipments can be made in 1995, 36 in 1996 and 20 a year after that. All waste at INEL, the 261 tons already stored there and the 97 tons that would come in under the deal - would be moved to a storage site outside Idaho by the end of 2035. A daily fine of $100,000, adjusted for inflation, would be paid by the federal government beginning Jan. 1, 2036, until all stored waste has been removed.