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Tuesday, November 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Two former Idaho governors threaten federal lawsuit over nuke waste

Environmental lawyer Laird Lucas, left, joins former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus at a news conference on Thursday in Boise (Betsy Russell)
Environmental lawyer Laird Lucas, left, joins former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus at a news conference on Thursday in Boise (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - 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.

“The Department of Energy should follow the law,” Andrus declared.

Batt said he’s not soothed by Gov. Butch 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. “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.”

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. “They didn’t meet any of the timelines they set out to meet. I wouldn’t trust ‘em.”

The two governors said spent waste is piling up at commercial nuclear plants across the nation due to problems with the proposed Yucca Mountain waste site, 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 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 hazardous mixed waste stored at the INL.

And last Friday, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sent a letter to the federal government saying he won’t support a waiver for the June shipment, though he signed a Jan. 8 letter to the DOE with Otter indicating support; Wasden said that’s changed now because another waste-cleanup deadline is being missed. Wasden’s office maintained his position hasn’t changed, saying 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, 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, or the governor and I will be forced to file litigation in the federal court,” he said, “which we intend to do if it’s necessary – and we hope it isn’t.”

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