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Otter response to Andrus, Batt: ‘They see INL as liability, while I see its possibilities’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today issued this statement in response to a federal lawsuit threat from former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus over nuclear waste shipments:

“The allegation that I am doing anything less than protecting Idaho under the terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement is simply wrong. No governor has shipped more waste out of the state than me. It seems as if the former governors would be satisfied with cleaning up the INL and shutting it down. Their approach ignores the asset the INL has become to eastern Idaho, the state and nation. Clean up under the terms of the agreement, including removal of ALL materials by 2035, remains our first priority, but it is not our only priority. Continuing the valuable research at the Lab with its world-class facilities and people is the future and one we should all work towards. It is clear the former governors see the Lab as a liability, while I see its possibilities.”

Andrus, Batt threaten federal lawsuit over Otter’s agreement to take more nuke waste

Former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt fired off a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy this morning threatening a federal lawsuit over a deal between the Otter Administration and the Department of Energy to allow a shipment of commercial spent nuclear fuel into Idaho under a waiver of the 1995 Batt Agreement on nuclear waste. Otter has maintained it’s a small amount that’s to be used 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; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“The  Department of Energy should follow the law,” Andrus declared. Batt said he’s not soothed by Gov. Butch Otter’s 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, he put the issue on the ballot. “The people made it very clear … they didn’t want additional nuclear waste stored above the aquifer, 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.” The two former governors said they’re not persuaded that just a single shipment is 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. “They didn’t meet any of the timelines they set out to meet. I wouldn’t trust ‘em.”

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 INL has taken in the past. He said NEPA requires the DOE 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, and take public input - and it hasn’t. “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.”

Just this morning, the state Department of Environmental Quality sent out a news release announcing the state has reached an agreement with the DOE over its violation of several deadlines related to mixed waste stored at the INL. And last Friday, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sent a letter to the federal government rescinding his support, given in a Jan. 8 letter, for plans for the shipment waiver, saying another deadline is being missed; you can read the letter here. (Note: Wasden maintains his position hasn’t changed, because his support always was conditional on DOE meeting cleanup deadlines.)

Batt said if the federal government maneuvers Idaho into becoming the new destination for commercial spent nuclear fuel that's stacking up at commercial nuclear plants around the nation, 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. “The intent of this is to tell them either comply with the policies set forth in NEPA," he said, "or the governor and I will be forced to file litigation in the federal court, which we intend to do if it’s necessary – and we hope it isn’t.” Lucas said the shipment is currently scheduled for June.

Feds offer $1 billion cleanup contract at INL

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Federal officials this week are meeting with companies interested in a $1 billion contract to clean up radioactive waste at an eastern Idaho nuclear facility. The Post Register reports (http://www.postregister.com/node/64730) that the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho Cleanup Project Core is a five-year contract that also includes watching over spent nuclear fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory. Events planned this week include an overview conference Monday, a site tour Tuesday, and one-on-one sessions Wednesday. Three other cleanup contracts worth far less will also advance in the coming months. Currently, two companies with contracts that expire Sept. 30, 2015, handle cleanup tasks. But the Department of Energy plans to split those duties four ways with contracts of five to nine years.

Labrador to tour INL, where budget cuts he backed threatened thousands of jobs

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador is headed into what could be hostile territory next week – Idaho Falls and the Idaho National Laboratory, a huge employer in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District. Labrador twice voted to gut the national nuclear research funding that operates the facility, potentially threatening thousands of jobs at the INL. He’s scheduled to tour the place next week and to address the Rotary Club in nearby Idaho Falls.

“We’ve been trying to do it for months,” Labrador said, but scheduling conflicts put the visit off until now. “They know they’re going to get a frank discussion with me, that I don’t mince my words and I don’t beat around the bush,” he said. “I understand the importance of INL to Idaho, but they also need to understand we have a $17 trillion debt, so we’re going to have a very interesting conversation.”

Two INL workers sue DOE after it refuses to release records of their exposure to plutonium

Two workers at the Idaho National Laboratory have sued the U.S. Department of Energy under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming they were wrongly denied documentation about a 2011 accident in which they were exposed to plutonium, AP reporter Rebecca Boone reports. The two filed a public records request asking the U.S. Department of Energy for documentation about the incident, including security video; they contend the federal agency wrongly denied their FOIA request when it claimed the records were the property of a private contractor. Click below for Boone's full article.

Group eyes INL for new nuke reactor

A consortium of utilities and a nuclear reactor designer have submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy to build a small nuclear reactor to meet future demand for carbon-free power, with a preferred location identified as the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho. The proposal, which includes utilities from Washington and Utah and a reactor designer from Oregon, seeks grant funds to start the permitting process for the reactor; the earliest it could be built is 2023. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Shannon Dininny.

Cleanup of buried waste in unlined pits at INL to resume in coming months

Gov. Butch Otter announced today that cleanup of radioactive and hazardous waste buried in unlined pits and trenches at the Idaho National Laboratory will restart in the coming months, after federal officials informed the state last fall that budget restrictions would force a halt to the work. The waste was generated during Cold War weapons production in the 1950s and 1960s; it was a key issue in the agreement former Gov. Phil Batt negotiated with the U.S. Department of Energy requiring removal of all the waste by 2035.

Since last fall's announcement, Otter and his LINE Commission, which stands for Leadership in Nuclear Energy, have been working to get the feds to restart the cleanup. In late May, the Department of Energy directed its cleanup contractor to use cost savings to restart it; as many as 50 employees will be hired to start work by late summer or early fall. Otter, who traveled to eastern Idaho for today's announcement, said, “While we still have some outstanding cleanup issues, this process demonstrates that our relationship with the Department of Energy is improving and we can be more confident that – with continued vigilance – promises will be kept and our concerns will be addressed.” Click below for his full news release.

Otter calls on feds to protect INL cleanup from sequestration cuts

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called on the U.S. Department of Energy today to protect court-ordered cleanup work at the Idaho National Laboratory from sequestration cuts, saying, "Safety and the environment are non-negotiable terms for the State of Idaho.” Otter told the department, "INL is a significant asset and Idaho is prepared to exercise leadership to ensure the Lab remains the nation’s flagship nuclear research facility,” and added, "I strongly believe that in times of sustained reductions in discretionary spending, the federal government can and should consolidate its nuclear work in Idaho." Click below for the governor's full news release. 

Public comment sought on positioning INL as nation’s key nuclear research site

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that his Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission has presented a "progress report" to the state and is seeking public comment. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory," Otter said in a statement. "There’s been significant economic benefit to the entire state.  As we sustain and even try to build on that in the future, the Commission is working to answer some tough questions and I applaud its effort to involve the public in that discussion before making final recommendations.”

Click below for Otter's full announcement and a list of FAQ's about the report. You can read the 52-page report here. Among its central questions:  Should Idaho modify then-Gov. Phil Batt's 1995 nuclear waste settlement agreement to allow additional nuclear materials to be brought to INL for research or other purposes, to maintain its mission as the nation's lead nuclear energy laboratory? The report's preliminary recommendation: Yes, at least in the context of specific research and manufacturing proposals. The report calls for significant investments at INL to make it the place for "concentrating and consolidating the nation’s nuclear energy research capability."

Spent nuclear fuel from USS Enterprise is Idaho-bound

Spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise will be sent to eastern Idaho for study and storage, the Idaho Falls Post Register reports. The Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is being decommissioned after participating in every major conflict with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Its spent nuclear fuel is expected to arrive in Idaho in 2015; click below for a full report from the Post Register and the Associated Press.

CAES researchers win $5.3 million in DOE grants

Researchers at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a partnership between Idaho's three public research universities and the Idaho National Laboratory, have won three different U.S. Department of Energy grants worth a total of $5.3 million. The three are for solar energy, geothermal energy and energy efficiency, and include researchers from Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and the INL. CAES Director Bill Rogers said, "Winning these grants illustrates the power of collaboration and what the CAES partners can achieve by working together." He added, "We are very proud of our researchers. Their hard work is really paying off." You can read more about the three grants here.

Fed audit says millions wasted to avoid sending Hanford nuke jobs to Idaho

An inspector general’s audit says the U.S. Department of Energy wasted $25 million because it didn’t ship certain radioactive wastes from Hanford, Wash. to Idaho for processing, in part because Hanford workers protested that the move would shift jobs to Idaho; Tri-City Herald reporter Annette Cary reports that the Idaho National Laboratory has equipment to compact the waste that Hanford lacked./Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Fed audit says millions wasted to avoid sending Hanford, Wash. jobs to Idaho

An inspector general’s audit says the U.S. Department of Energy is spending an extra $25 million because it didn’t ship certain radioactive wastes from Hanford to Idaho for processing, in part because Hanford workers protested that the move would shift jobs to Idaho; click below to read the full story from reporter Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.