More than 500 residents of Jackson Hole, Wyo., packed a meeting hall in late August to fight a nuclear-waste incinerator planned for eastern Idaho. The crowd rallied to the evangelical fervor of Gerry Spence, the flamboyant lawyer who has built a national career on high-profile cases.
By the end
of the evening, everyone from movie actors to massage therapists
had pledged a total of $496,000 to fight the incinerator, planned
for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
near Idaho Falls. It would burn mixed hazardous and low-level
radioactive waste left over from the Cold War bomb-making
The Department of Energy has already
completed an environmental impact statement, and its private
contractor, British Nuclear Fuels Limited, hopes to begin
construction this fall. The project's last hurdle is obtaining a
clean-air permit from the Idaho Department of Environmental
The department held public hearings on
the permit last winter. The comment period on Idaho's air permit
closed in June after two extensions.
Hole residents didn't catch wind of it until late May, when the
Idaho nonprofit Snake River Alliance sent a warning letter to the
Jackson Hole News. Now, a corps of citizens-turned-activists fears
that the incinerator will send a plume of radioactive emissions 90
miles downwind to Wyoming.
systematically given our power to the experts who say they can
assure us that any amount (of radiation) is harmless," says Angele
Ferre, a Jackson local who has spearheaded the effort. "If one
person is harmed by the emissions, then no amounts are harmless."
The federal Department of Energy insists that
the project is safe. "The amount of emissions that will be released
is infinitesimal, much lower than the amounts of natural radiation
to which Wyoming residents are exposed to on a daily basis," says
Brad Bugger, a spokesman for the Department of
But federal officials haven't heard the
last of Jackson Hole. On Sept. 17, Gerry Spence sued the Energy
Department, claiming the agency didn't look at alternatives to
incineration. His backers have raised nearly $1 million. "You don't
go to battle without a full war chest," he says. "And I have never
fought a battle I couldn't win."