The Clinton administration asked for and received more time on Friday to consider Gov. Phil Batt’s proposal for resuming radioactive dumping at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
After talking with Assistant Energy Secretary Thomas Grumbly, Batt said he agreed to give the government until Tuesday afternoon to continue assessing his offer and its response. The governor said it appeared the administration believed there was a way to make the scheme acceptable to both sides.
“That’s the impression I got,” Batt said after the brief telephone conversation. “He said the Department of Energy, the Navy and the Justice Department are working diligently to get an agreement.”
It was the second extension the government has sought since Batt proposed the deal eight days ago. He had originally set a response deadline of last Tuesday and then almost immediately agreed to extend it to Friday.
The most pressing issue facing the federal government is the Navy’s contention that it must immediately resume dumping its spent nuclear fuel at the INEL or the military readiness of its nuclear fleet will be undermined. And because of that claim, Congress is ready to override the June 1993 federal court ban on new waste shipments to preserve national security.
The court’s shipment ban is in effect until U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge rules on the state’s claim that the federal government improperly determined that additional waste could be safely stored on top of the 261 tons already at the INEL. That ruling is expected in the next six weeks.
If a deal is struck, it would have to be approved by Lodge as part of the long-running legal case, and it would include the state dropping its challenge to the government’s safety determination.
A second legal challenge by an environmental group to the conclusion that more waste storage could safely occur would still be pending but its effect should Lodge adopt any agreement as a court order would be uncertain.
The Navy is also scheduled later this month to argue before a federal appellate court panel that the existing court order should be at least modified so it can immediately dump 24 waste shipments in eastern Idaho.
Under the Batt proposal, the state will accept another 968 shipments of high-level waste - 97 tons - over the next 40 years, including all of the anticipated Navy waste. In return, the federal government will guarantee that all high-level waste - new and old - and most low-level waste will be completely removed from Idaho by 2036. The court-enforced deal, with specific milestones on processing waste for removal, carries a daily fine of $100,000, adjusted for inflation, beginning Jan. 1, 2036, until all waste is removed.