We can build it. You should come!
Over 500 people turned out in Idaho Falls tonight for the scoping meeting on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). It was characterized by a remarkable alignment of state and local political leaders.
Idaho lined up its political luminaries in a visible constellation of stars to support GNEP. Spokesmen for the entire Idaho political delegation, all of its senators and congressmen, the governor, the legislature (voting 55-9 in favor in the House), as well as 17 mayors and commissioners from 10 counties stood up one-after-another as groups to read letters of support into the hearing record.
The standing room only crowd stacked five deep in the hotel conference center contained every community leader who could get there from the counties surrounding the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
More of an enthusiastic celebration of the area's commitment to nuclear energy than a government hearing, the evening’s sentiments were perhaps best represented by Idaho Falls city council member Ida Hardcastle who said, basically, about GNEP, “We can build it. You should come.”
A spokesman for Rep, Mike Simpson, (R-Id) told the hearing that GNEP deserved support because, “burying barely used nuclear fuel is like putting gold back in the mine.” John Grossenbacher, the INL Laboratory Director, echoed these comments remarking that “GNEP is long overdue. It must be a part of any realistic energy policy.” Greg Crockett, a local attorney and community leader also noted that GNEP represents, “a return to logic in the management of nuclear fuel.”
In one of the few policy related comments of the evening, Jared Fuhriman, Mayor of the City of Idaho Falls, speaking with 16 other mayors from cities surround the INL standing at his side, asked DOE to “resolve the Idaho Settlement Agreement of 1995 to allow GNEP to come to Idaho.” The agreement in its present form prohibits the import of spent nuclear fuel to Idaho and focuses on cleanup of buried nuclear waste on the Arco desert.
Ray Furstenau, the official from the Department of Energy Idaho Operations Office, who opened the meeting, told the crowd their turnout “beat Hanford.” The audience in the room burst into spontaneous applause. This was a far different crowd than I’ve seen at some government hearings on energy-related environmental impact statements. The usual scenario is one of outraged citizens hurling environmental invective at befuddled government officials.
It was not the case here. Many speakers emphasized their multi-generational presence in Idaho and relationships to the lab. They talked about parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren who all live in eastern Idaho, and they said they would not support GNEP if they thought there was any risk to their extended families.
Two hours after the hearing began dozens of people were still lined up to give their statements to the hearing officials. If DOE wants to count community support as a factor in making a decision where to site GNEP's plants, they got what they were looking for in Idaho Falls.