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Eye On Boise

Andrus files FOIA lawsuit over INL waste shipment documents

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy today under the federal Freedom of Information Act, seeking to force the agency to release documents about proposed shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory. "It is clear that the federal government is withholding information from the people of Idaho that will allow all of us to more completely assess what they have in mind in both the short and long term with regard to commercial spent fuel coming to Idaho," Andrus said. "I don't take legal action lightly, but I do believe the information that DOE has refused to provide is essential to protecting Idaho's environment as well as protecting the integrity of Gov. Batt's historic agreement."

Former Gov. Phil Batt negotiated a landmark agreement with the feds in 1995 requiring cleanup of nuclear waste stored in Idaho and restricting further shipments of waste to the state. The DOE is now seeking a waiver of the 1995 agreement to allow commercial spent fuel to be shipped to INL for research; Batt and Andrus have objected, and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has taken the position that the waiver can’t be granted until the DOE comes into compliance with the 1995 agreement, including starting to reprocess 900,000 gallons of liquid waste now stored in single-walled steel tanks over the Snake River Plain Aquifer. Those tanks have now been there for 60 years.

The state has granted the feds two past waivers of the 1995 agreement, both conditioned on compliance with the agreement’s timetables; it’s a court-ordered, voter-approved agreement.

Andrus filed a FOIA request for documents about the shipments, but said all he got were heavily redacted pages that consisted of information already made public, including newspaper accounts. He appealed, but his appeal was denied. The complaint says DOE has been “spinning the issue as a matter of supporting jobs at INL, rather than dealing with nuclear waste in Idaho.” It also notes that the state’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy, or LINE Commission, has been briefed on possible future research efforts at INL involving more than 20 metric tons of spent fuel.

Andrus said he believes DOE has formulated long-range plans to bring significantly larger amounts of commercial waste material to Idaho, turning Idaho into the nation’s repository for the waste – something specifically prohibited by the Batt agreement.

"Without DOE leveling with Idaho about both near-term and longer range plans we simply have no ability to assess the wisdom of what they are planning for the state," Andrus said. "I suspect they know what they are planning will be very controversial and for that reason they want to keep it secret. That is simply unacceptable." 

Andrus is a four-term Idaho governor and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior. His attorney in the FOIA lawsuit, Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West, said, “"The DOE has left us little choice but to ask the federal courts to enforce the law. A fundamental tenet of the American system of  government is openness and transparency. The people have both a right and an obligation to know what their government is doing. That is why we feel it is so important to bring this information to light."

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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