It's easy to see how the politically powerful of Idaho stand on storing nuclear waste in the state: Gov. Phil Batt signed an agreement a year ago allowing more than a thousand such shipments to enter the state in exchange for a pledge that existing waste leave the state by 2035 (HCN, 9/2/96). Republican Sen. Larry Craig supports him. Craig's Democratic challenger, Walt Minnick, does not. Nor does John Peavey, a former state senator and Democrat who may run for Batt's seat in 1998.
nuclear waste has become a defining issue in the Senate race, how
Idahoans themselves feel about the issue won't become clear until
next month, when they'll vote on a citizens' initiative which would
void Batt's agreement.
Called Proposition 3, it
would also require that all future agreements between the state and
the federal government be approved by the state Legislature and
Idaho citizens. The initiative was shepherded to the ballot by a
group called Stop the Shipments, which is chaired by
Although recent polls show 52 percent in
favor of the proposition and 29 percent against it, the issue has
many voters confused. "There are a lot of people that don't even
know there's an agreement," says Norma Douglas of Stop the
To further bewilder voters, another
group with a similar name formed last month to support Batt's
agreement. Get the Waste Out argues that a "yes' vote on
Proposition 3 won't necessarily stop the shipments but will stop
waste from leaving the state, thereby causing the Idaho National
Engineering Laboratory to become a de facto repository for the
nation's nuclear waste.
Loopholes in Batt's
agreement will allow essentially the same thing to happen, says
Peavey. He also points out that Batt's agreement lets in more than
just the thousand shipments. For example, it requires INEL to
accept 500 boxcars worth of "mixed waste' - plutonium-contaminated
waste mixed with hazardous chemicals - and to build a treatment
facility such as an incinerator.
Which group is
telling the truth? Neither and both, say outside experts, since so
much still depends on how the courts will react to promised
lawsuits challenging the initiative's legality and asking for an
injunction against future shipments. The larger issue also remains:
Will permanent nuclear waste dumps ever be approved in Nevada and
But it is clear who's funding each
group: Get the Waste Out is primarily funded by large corporations
such as Monsanto and Micron, while Stop the Shipments is bankrolled
by private citizens and the nonprofit Snake River Alliance.
The schism between the Senate candidates over
the issue represents an unusual situation in the West, where state
politicians have typically stood unified against more populous
states that have tried to force waste on the politically weak.
"There's confusion among the troops," says Douglas. "It's really a
shame that the political leadership isn't more united."
Manning is assistant editor for High Country News.