New governor accepts nuclear waste

  • Train passing through Shoshone, Idaho, carrying radioactive waste

    William Cook
  • Ellen Glaccum and Janet O'Crowley protest nuclear waste

    William Cook
 

BOISE, Idaho - New Idaho Gov. Philip E. Batt broke with tradition Jan. 12 and agreed to accept a total of 11 railroad-borne casks of nuclear waste from the U.S. Navy during the next six weeks.

In return, the Navy has promised to find a geologic repository outside Idaho "as quickly as practical" and transfer decades' worth of nuclear waste from Idaho to the new site.

But no licensed alternative site exists, and neither Batt nor the Navy could say when the waste will be removed from Idaho.

Batt's decision reverses the policy of former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who tried to prohibit the Navy and U.S. utilities from shipping any more nuclear waste to Idaho.

The spent fuel rods are generated by the Navy's fleet of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. The Navy has made about 600 shipments of the radioactive rods to the Idaho National Engineering Lab (INEL), about 60 miles northwest of Pocatello, since the 1950s. The coming shipments will be from the U.S.S. Enterprise carrier, which is docked at Newport News, Va.

During the last three years, the Snake River Alliance, a citizen's watchdog group based in Boise, has protested every waste-carrying train coming to Idaho. The heavily guarded trains run on a secret schedule designed to avoid publicity, but the alliance maintains a human telegraph of activists along the lines to send the alert to the next town when a train passes by, according to alliance coordinator Ellen Glaccum.

All the shipments roll through Pocatello. Sometimes two trains join farther south in McCammon, combining waste from Virginia and bases at Bremerton, Wash., and Mare Island, near San Francisco, Calif. Thirty-five people witnessed such a hybrid train, toting no less than eight casks - the largest shipment to date - as it passed through Pocatello in late January.

Activists say they miss the support of former Gov. Andrus, who took the Navy to court in 1993. A federal judge upheld the state's case and ordered an environmental impact statement, which is due this June. The current shipments came about after the Navy petitioned for an emergency exception.

Calling the shipments an "outrage," Kerry Cooke, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said she doubted the Navy would have any power over whether the waste is removed from Idaho.

"It's the Navy's intent to bring their spent fuel to Idaho for decades and decades," Cooke said. "We're still going to have all of their spent fuel, and it's going to be hazardous virtually forever."

Accepting the new shipments, Batt agreed with the Navy's contention that they're a matter of national security. Asked how he was convinced, Batt said he received a briefing about the need to replace old fuel rods on nuclear ships quickly.

Batt at first hinted that INEL may receive even more shipments from the Navy. Depending on the outcome of the EIS process, Batt said, "if the shipments can be accommodated without harming the environment, then I suspect they will be allowed."

But in late January Gov. Batt talked tougher, saying he will never accept further storage of waste - government or civilian - until he has a deadline for its removal that he trusts.

State Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls, applauded Batt's willingness to help the Navy. "I have no fear of the safety factor; I don't think I'm going to start glowing in the dark. This decision could open the door for very big things as far as permanent storage is concerned."

Because the Navy waste is highly radioactive, it should be stored at the proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, Richardson said. But no one knows when that site will open.

The writer reports from Boise, Idaho. HCN intern Ross Freeman contributed to this report.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Central Colorado Conservancy, located in Salida, Colorado, is seeking a Conservation Program Manager dedicated to managing the Conservancy's land protection program which includes developing and...
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.