The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is moving forward with plans to close the licensing review of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear waste repository.
Reports are that the closedown of the licensing of the site will take one to two years. It was a year ago the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that the Energy Department didn’t have authority to withdraw from the building program.
Since that time, lawmakers have pressured the NRC for reconsideration, and have pressured the commission to hear an appeal to the application. The pressure, too, has shown that the nuclear-power industry supports the single site storage facility. Radioactive waste is currently stored at dozens of locations around the country.
The search is on for a permanent repository. But that site, while no list has been designed, should not include Idaho.
Idaho’s INL has been a leader with the Department of Energy in advancing the nuclear energy technology and associated enterprises. The spin-off industries that have been created by its presence are enough to keep eastern Idaho officials clambering to get more business to the site.
It was only last month that the Idaho Falls City Council stepped out to show support for Gov. Otter’s agreement allowing a small amount of used commercial reactor fuel to be brought to the Idaho National Laboratory.
The endorsement from the council is considered huge by the region’s technology promoters. A proclamation of support from the city was presented Feb. 1 to Otter, along with statements of support.
Otter, a Republican, is quoted as saying the 880 pounds of used fuel coming to Idaho annually under the new agreement would be used for research and will count toward existing limits set in the state’s 1995 nuclear waste agreement with the federal government.
Included in this fray of concern over the inclusion or exclusion of nuclear shipments is Congressman Mike Simpson. A staunch INL supporter and backer of its research, he is quick to point that R&D translates to jobs and dollars.
In spite of what the governor and city council claims the agreement comes with no assurance of new jobs or new investments at the laboratory.
Former Gov. Cecil Andrus has been ardent about not allowing radioactive waste to amass within the state’s borders. In a letter in response to Otter’s signing the agreement, he clearly punctuates that this simple act will allow the federal government an opening to begin moving more material into the state.
Andrus is well aware that over the past five years alone, INL has grown from a business volume of roughly $500 million a year to more than $1 billion a year. Employment at INL has grown by hundreds of jobs, and some of the most difficult cleanup efforts have been tackled or are in the process of being tackled. INL’s talented workforce is beginning to occupy modern new buildings where old ones once stood. The battles that Governor Andrus fought with DOE were long ago won by the State of Idaho, and a new era of progress has emerged.
Andrus says an agreement announced earlier this month with the U.S. Department of Energy sets the state up to become the final destination for nuclear waste.
I tend to agree with former governor Andrus that the new agreement combined with the abandonment of Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada means Idaho will end up storing more nuclear waste.
Allowing small shipments of radioactive material to be sent to INL should not be confused with long-term storage needs, or creation of jobs in the Idaho Falls region. Keeping enough enriched material on hand to provide sensitive and necessary research is provided for. While 880 pounds a waste dump does not make, it should not be left unattended or unwatched.
Robb Hicken in managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.