There’s an old hunting expression, “keep your eye on the rabbit,” that former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus would invoke when a staff person would get “off message.”
In the current debate over Gov. Butch Otter effectively abrogating a key clause in Idaho’s heretofore ironclad agreement with the Federal government NOT to store even a minimal amount of commercial nuclear waste, even that used for research purpose, on an interim basis, it is Andrus who is keeping his eye on the rabbit.
The 1995 agreement was altered by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in the early years of the first decade of this century to allow a minimal amount of commercial waste for research purposes. Gov. Andrus, who initiated the negotiations that led to the 1995 agreement finalized by Gov. Phil Batt, lent his support but suggested that once the research was completed the research waste had to be shipped right back to its point of origin.
The premise for all of this was that all waste would be removed by 2035 and stored at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Years and billions of dollars later it is clear Yucca Mountain will never be opened let alone operational. Likewise, there’ll be no other high level repository anywhere in the nation.
One quickly concludes any waste brought to the INL site will not be leaving for generations to come. This conclusion is inescapable and warrants the warning flag Gov. Andrus has raised. Candidly, the orchestrated campaign by the defenders of the Department of Energy to minimize the Gov.’s warning (it’s been called exaggerated, simply not factual, etc.) confirms that the four-term governor hit the bull’s eye dead center.
Unfortunately, the fact the governor even had to raise the flag speaks to the sad but steady decline by the State in carrying out its oversight responsibility.
Gov. Andrus enjoys a high standing in the minds of Idaho voters astounding for one who has not held elective office for 16 years. Idahoans know, though, they can trust him to look out for the public interest, that he measures his words carefully and his intellect as well as political instincts remain razor sharp especially for one who will turn 80 years young in August.
He began monitoring the activities at the site in the early-70’s and quickly recognized the potential danger posed by poorly stored transuranic (mid level) nuclear wastes. Almost single-handedly he forced the old Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agency, the Department of Energy, to commit to a schedule for removal of this poorly stored waste from above Idaho’s Snake River plain aquifer and repackaging for storage at properly constructed salt caverns in New Mexico.
When the AEC put out a document that was a preliminary effort to find and identify a storage site for accumulating commercial nuclear waste, he appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of distinguished Idahoans to study the matter, hold hearings and respond. The response was overwhelmingly against Idaho becoming a waste repository for any nuclear waste especially that generated by nuclear power plants.
After returning to the governorship in 1987, he ordered the Idaho State Police in 1988 to place a squad car across railroad tracks just inside the state line with a burly state trooper standing in front with folded arms. The subsequent picture ran in newspapers nationwide, delivering the message to DoE that Idaho was not about to accept any waste from Rocky Flats. DoE got the message and dropped its plans.
Things are different now say the defenders of DoE. Yes, to a degree because of the agreement Andrus started negotiating with the federal agency and Batt finished negotiating in 1995. When Andrus says he fears that agreement has been effectively abrogated by a legal precedent opening the door even a crack to importing more commercial waste allegedly only for interim purposes, Idahoans should sit up and listen.
Since Gov. Kempthorne’s amending of the agreement, the Idaho National Laboratory folks have taken a couple of subtle steps designed to get the state to lower its guard. This includes hiring Gov. Kempthorne’s former press secretary as the site’s communications director and the lead contractor at the site also hired as its chief Boise lobbyist Gov. Kempthorne’s former chief of staff. Those are not coincidences, my friends.
It’s a far cry from 1988 and a sad commentary on how easily some people do not let history be a guide. Andrus, though, knows otherwise. Ten years ago he concluded a chapter on nuclear waste in his book “Politics, Western Style” saying:
“But I still reserve the right to raise hell. My role is that of a kind of human monitoring station on the Department of Energy’s performance. I will be back on the hustings if the federal government welshes on any of the work it has committed to perform.”
With the connivance of the state’s current Gov., the DoE has committed a calculated breach and Gov. Andrus, stepping into the breach, is keeping his eye on the rabbit n which could start to glow much sooner than any one realizes.