BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter created the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission a year ago. The sole function of the nuclear task force is to look for ways to enhance the role of the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s lead nuclear research lab.
The LINE Commission released a draft of the recommendations in early December so the public had time to weight in. That public comment period ended in mid-January. LINE Commissioner Jeff Sayer says he is pleased the Governor recognized the economic importance of the Idaho National Laboratory. Boise State Public Radio host Scott Graf and EarthFix reporter Aaron Kunz recently discussed the upcoming report. Here’s a transcript:
Scott Graf: Aaron - the LINE Commission is expected to release its final report to the governor. What can we expect?
Aaron Kunz: The LINE Commission will release more than 60 recommendations. They include expanding or creating a permanent commission similar to the LINE Commission to oversee future projects and enhancing the role of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, which is a research and education program based in Idaho Falls but utilizes Idaho State University, Boise State University and the University of Idaho.
Other recommendations include expanding infrastructure like U.S. Highway 20 and getting a direct-flight service from Boise to Idaho Falls.
The report will also likely include a recommendation to modify the 1995 settlement agreement between the state of Idaho and the federal government. That agreement regulates how much spent nuclear fuel can be shipped to Idaho and forces the federal government to clean up and export nuclear waste buried and stored at the INL’s desert facility between Arco and Idaho Falls.
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Graf It was that last recommendation you mentioned that created some controversy since last summer. The Snake River Alliance spent months denouncing any effort to revisit that settlement agreement.
Kunz: That’s right, Scott. Liz Woodruff at the Snake River Alliance feels that Idaho is better off leaving the settlement agreement alone. Her organization is a watchdog group that wants all nuclear waste out of Idaho. I should mention that it’s not just the Snake River Alliance. Former Gov. Phil Batt, who signed the Settlement Agreement, and former Gov. Cecil Andrus have been vocal about leaving the agreement alone. Even Gov. Otter has said he doesn’t see a reason to modify that agreement in his state of the state address earlier this month.
Graf: So why does the LINE Commission feel revisiting the agreement is necessary?
Kunz: Jeff Sayer, chairman of the LINE Committee, says the INL could soon fall victim to big federal spending cuts. Because of that settlement agreement, the federal government might feel more comfortable moving the nuclear research efforts to a state that has less regulations on nuclear fuel or waste. A nuclear research laboratory like the INL needs fuel and waste to study how to better manage future nuclear power plants.
Watch the full TV interview with Chairman Sayer.
In short, Sayer’s committee says it’s important to keep all options on the table. They aren’t recommending making Idaho a storage site for spent nuclear waste. They simply want to study it further and see what their options are.
That’s not to mention that the federal government doesn’t have a place to store spent nuclear waste. The repository planned for Nevada has now been closed…now the federal government is looking for other options.
Graf: So why all the hype about potentially modifying the 1995 settlement agreement?
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Kunz: Well, Sayer says the current agreement is out of date. For instance, it has a $60,000 a day penalty if the federal government doesn’t remove transuranic waste — that’s stuff like clothing and gloves that are contaminated by nuclear radiation — to a site in New Mexico. That means the federal government could leave the waste here in Idaho for roughly $22 million a year, which is less expensive than shipping.
What Sayer wants to do is modify the agreement to make the penalty more severe to give the federal government more incentive to finish the job. It’s possible they will miss the target date of 2035 to remove nuclear waste currently in Idaho.
But Sayer isn’t ruling out the possibility of keeping that waste here in exchange for more federal spending in Idaho. Again, everything is on the table. But the LINE Commission doesn’t have the power to act on its own recommendations.
Graf: Lets talk about economic impact of the INL on Idaho. How much money does it bring into the state?
Kunz: While the Lab is located in Eastern Idaho, it has a big impact on the entire state. Total wages and salaries amounts to $419 million. It accounts for over 6 percent of all tax revenue in Idaho every year. If the INL was to close, that would be greatly reduced. It would be devastating to Eastern Idaho and to the entire state. There may not be a replacement for the money lost. One in five jobs in Eastern Idaho come from the INL. Those are high paying jobs — between $70,000 and $80,000 a year jobs. Those employees and contractors live in Idaho, shop in Idaho and donate millions to state charities.
Graf: So what’s next?
Kunz: The LINE Commission will make its final recommendations before the end of the month to Gov. Otter. It’s widely believed the governor will turn those recommendations over to lawmakers who could start acting on some of the recommendations during this legislative session.
But funding isn’t guaranteed and a lot of the recommendations will require major capital.
Here is Aaron’s report for Idaho Reports: Aaron LINE Commission 01-25-13 2MB
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