Writings and observations

Eye on the nuclear rabbit

ridenbaugh Northwest
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A guest opinion by Cecil D. Andrus, former Idaho governor, on nuclear waste at the Idaho National Laboratory.

There’s an old country expression that the people of Idaho should take to heart: Keep your eye on the rabbit. In this case, the rabbit is the incontestable threat to Idaho’s economic and environmental future presented by the storage above the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer of nuclear waste, whether liquid, transuranic or solid in the form of spent fuel rods.

It would only take one major seismic event to precipitate nuclear-tainted material migrating to and beginning to infect the aquifer. Idahoans would see a major part of the state’s agricultural economy, particularly the downstream potato, beet, alfalfa and trout farm businesses destroyed, never to recover.

Imagine how deadly one political cartoon showing an irradiated potato “going viral” would be?

One out of two residents in South Idaho obtain their culinary water directly or indirectly from the Snake River and/or the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. If you are one of those two, how would you feel about continuing to draw your household water from a compromised source?

There are several key matters the public should keep in mind.

Gov. Phil Batt’s historic 1995 agreement that, to his lasting credit, he drove through the “Red Zone” was premised on a mutual agreement between the state and the federal government that all nuclear waste above the aquifer was to be removed from Idaho by 2035.

My fellow citizens, you are not going to reach that goal by adding to the waste instead of continuing to draw it down. Gov. Batt said it quite well: “You take an ounce of waste from the federal government, they want to give you 10,000 pounds.”

The issue is not so much what 50 spent fuel rods weigh (EPA states they could weigh up to 1,500 pounds each) that Gov. Butch Otter wants to allow, nor how much revenue-generating research is going to be generated by the spent fuel rods. The issue is that Gov. Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are looking the other way as Idaho’s National Laboratory increasingly becomes the de facto replacement for Yucca Mountain, Nev., as the nation’s permanent repository.

The second fundamental issue is this: Who do you trust to look out for your interests with the “greatest good for the greatest number” as a guiding principle? Is it two governors who between them have served Idaho in one office or another for a combined 80 years and have stood fast against Idaho becoming a dumping ground, or is it a federal government with a long history of breaking promises?

By the way, this is the same federal government that Gov. Otter so excoriated in his State of the State on a number of fronts. Why does he think they can be trusted to serve as “co-guardians” of Idaho’s future?

Gov. Batt and I are giving the people of this great state a solemn pledge that we are going to ask some tough questions in the next few weeks. We intend to get answers. This is not the first time Gov. Otter has sought an exemption. Exceptions quickly turn to norms, and we believe his administration has operated far too long in the shadows on this critical matter.

We take seriously the oath of office we both first took as governors to uphold the Idaho Constitution and to serve the best interests of the people. Though we no longer hold public office, we believe it still applies and we intend to do our duty.

Cecil D. Andrus is a former governor of Idaho.

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