It removes a threat to the Snake River aquifer from transuranic wastes
Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter (left) stepped into history this week joining former Idaho governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt by signing a ground breaking cleanup agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy. Like its predecessor agreements, signed by these two previous Idaho governors, this one implements a federal court order and ends years of litigation. The agreement will result in the federal government paying site contractors to remove radioactive waste from pits and trenches where it was dumped in the 1950s and 60s after being shipped to Idaho from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado.
Otter said at a press conference in Boise on 7/1, attended by Andrus and Batt, that the cleanup plan was developed "after an exhaustive technical review" that balanced risks to the public, workers, and the public.
“This agreement reflects years of effort, scientific advancement, diligent follow-up, and most of all building trust. We enter into this agreement confident that it is in the best interest of the aquifer, the Idaho National Laboratory, and all Idahoans. With the support of my predecessors in this office, it represents our best effort – and our highest aspirations – for securing a safe and productive future.”
The plan targets 7,485 cubic meters of waste in an area of about six-to-eight acres contaminated with transuranic elements as well as volatile chemical compounds. The solid wastes will be removed and shipped to a geologic repository. The volatile organics will be vacuumed out, and a impermeable cap will be put over the former disposal area and monitored to insure nothing is migrating towards the underground aquifer.
A healthy dose of common sense
Realistic expectations seems to have finally taken hold of both parties. Former Gov. Phil Batt told the AP,
"At my advanced age, I was afraid I'd get buried before the buried waste left here. It's time to carry out the judge's orders to the best of our abilities. I don't think it would be in the interest of the state of Idaho to continue on with these lawsuits."
Kathleen Trevor, who has been involved in the cleanup for 15 years, said the agreement preserves the state's right to go back to court if there are problems in the future. She said targeting removal of transuranic waste makes more sense than a wholesale cleanup.
"After thorough technical, legal and policy review, this is the right thing to do."
Get it ~ got it ~ good
There are three reasons why this deal is good for Idaho, the cleanup effort, and the nuclear R&D lab.
- No more hardball legal tactics
It's good for Idaho because it ends the hard ball legal battle over "all is all" regarding how much waste to dig up from the subsurface disposal area. Earlier this year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the Boise Federal District Court decision in 2006 on this issue in favor of the State of Idaho. Now both sides have an agreement which they can use to measure progress. Plus, the cost is much more manageable for the federal government and it focuses on the transuranic wastes not ALL wastes. The transuranics will be removed from Idaho.
- Future governors will have wind in their sails
It supports the precedents set by the legacies of former governors Cecil Andrus (right) and Phil Batt, who attended Gov. Otter's press conference and endorsed the new agreement with DOE. Both former governors worked hard to get DOE to to sign up for key cleanup agreements. Setting the current deal in place insures Otter shares in that legacy. It establishes precedent for future governors. It puts wind in their sails because of the success these three have achieved on cleanup efforts.
- It supports nuclear R&D missions at the lab
It is good for the Idaho R&D lab which now has a better shot at getting federal funding to build the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) ($1-2B in construction costs starting about 2016). This is because there is continued progress on cleanup AND the federal government isn't burdened with a huge, new cleanup bill. Also, public opinion surveys over the years have shown repeatedly that Idaho voters will support new nuclear energy R&D missions at the lab so long as there is continued cleanup progress as well. The latest agreement continues to support that political formula.
Everyone into the pool
Endorsements for the new cleanup agreement came quickly. A press release on the State of Idaho web site contains statements from Otter, Andrus, and Batt; and, Idaho Attorney General Wasden. DOE cleanup chief James Rispoli and EPA regional administrator Elin Miller added their endorsements. DOE also issued a press release about the agreement. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who's district includes the cleanup project, attended the press conference in Boise, and Sen. Mike Crapo endorsed it via a press release.
Costs high, so are savings, and benefits
The new cleanup project will be completed by 2020 and could cost over $2 billion, but it will cost a lot less than a plan that retrieved all of the waste which could been $13 billion. The savings are considerable and the most dangerous wastes will get cleaned up and removed as a threat to the Snake River aquifer.
That's good news.
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