BOISE – Former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt fired off a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy on Thursday threatening a federal lawsuit over a deal between the current governor and the Department of Energy to allow a shipment of spent nuclear fuel into Idaho.
Gov. Butch Otter has maintained that it’s a small amount of spent nuclear fuel for use in research. But the two former governors said regardless of the amount, the move violates the public notice requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The Department of Energy should follow the law,” Andrus said.
Batt said he’s not soothed by Otter’s earlier comment that it’d only be 50 spent fuel rods. “I almost got recalled over bringing in eight,” Batt said.
He noted that under his administration in the 1990s, the issue was on the ballot and voters “made it very clear … they didn’t want additional nuclear waste stored above the (Snake River) aquifer.” That aquifer flows below the Idaho National Laboratory in Eastern Idaho, where the spent fuel would go.
Batt said if Otter’s administration wants to bring more waste in – in any amount – “They should take it to the people. They’re the ones that said they didn’t want any more.”
Otter responded in a statement, “No governor has shipped more waste out of the state than me.” He said cleanup at the eastern Idaho site “remains our first priority, but it is not our only priority,” and called for furthering research programs at the site. “It is clear the former governors see the Lab as a liability, while I see its possibilities,” Otter said.
The two former governors said they’re not persuaded that just one or two shipments are at stake; they said documents they’ve seen show the waiver is for a 10-year program of shipments on which the federal government will spend up to $200 million.
“We’ve had almost 50 years, since I’ve been involved, of being lied to,” Andrus said.
The two former governors said spent waste is piling up at commercial nuclear plants across the nation due to problems with the proposed Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada, and they don’t want Idaho to be the new destination for the waste.
Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, an environmental lawyer who specializes in federal court litigation, said the proposed shipment is commercial spent fuel – not the Navy waste the Idaho National Laboratory has taken in the past. He said the environmental policy act requires the Energy Department to disclose to the public what it’s doing, including why it’s proposing to bring the waste into Idaho and what will happen to it here. The act also requires taking public input, which hasn’t happened, Lucas said.
“They are waiving the ban on shipments with this agreement,” Lucas said. “They’ve done it with no public notice. … The citizens of Idaho do not know what the DOE proposes to do with regard to spent nuclear commercial fuel above the aquifer.”
Batt said if the federal government maneuvers Idaho into becoming the new destination for commercial spent nuclear fuel, the state will suffer. “You get the least hint of it, publicity all over the world, and that’s the end of the Idaho potato industry,” he warned.
Andrus said Lucas will be the two former governors’ lawyer if they sue.
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