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Nuke Waste Pressure Builds for Idaho

Threats are swirling over accepting nuclear waste for research at the Idaho National Laboratory. Credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy.
Threats are swirling over accepting nuclear waste for research at the Idaho National Laboratory. Credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy.
August 25, 2015

BOISE, Idaho – A nuclear waste showdown between Idaho and the Department of Energy (DOE) has reached a new level.

The DOE has informed the state that if it does not accept a small amount of spent fuel from two commercial plants soon, it will be sent somewhere for research – and that research is seen as an economic boon for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has said the waste can't be delivered until 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste already at INL is cleaned up. Kelsey Nunez, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, adds there are other implications to be considered if Idaho takes the spent fuel.

"There's 20 tons of this spent nuclear fuel at the North Anna power plant just waiting to go somewhere," she says. "If the research is done here, it's pretty likely the rest of the waste will come here too."

The North Anna plant is located in Virginia.

According to Nunez, there is currently no place for the waste to go after it is used for research, which she says is another reason Idaho should say "no." There also are arguments to support accepting the commercial waste, including that the contractor for cleanup and the research contractor are two different companies – so they shouldn't be tied together.

Nunez says the 1995 Settlement Agreement happened because of the federal government's legacy of "literally dumping all kinds" of nuclear waste in Idaho, putting land and water at risk. The practice angered Idahoans, and since there's still no place for high-level waste to go for long-term storage, Nunez says Idahoans should demand accountability.

"We don't think it's appropriate to bring commercial spent nuclear fuel in, whether it's for research or not," she says.

Nunez adds that progress on cleanup has been made at INL, but delays have occurred for safety reasons.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID