Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dump mercury in Idaho? No way

"No." That was Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's response to the discovery that unbeknownst to anyone in Idaho, the U.S. Department of Energy had put the state on a list of seven sites being considered for disposal of 17,000 tons of mercury.

His response was right on.

Historically, Idaho has been one of the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" places where others want to store the waste they don't want in their own backyards.

The DOE needs a disposal site because exporting domestically produced mercury will be banned in 2013. Mercury is a volatile liquid metal that can cause birth defects and neurological damage. It's used in gold mining and electronic devices.

The Idaho National Laboratory is no stranger to toxic waste given that it has been the site of nuclear research since the dawn of the atom.

Gov. Otter said he found out about the proposal to store mercury at INL—just 80 miles from Sun Valley—in a newspaper article.

Apparently the DOE didn't think the idea was important enough to inform him or the state's congressional delegation.

The governor was furious. He was quoted as saying, "I don't know whether it is arrogance or ignorance at its worst."

Apparently, the DOE still hasn't gotten the message that Idaho won't be the nation's dumping ground for toxic waste.

Until two former Idaho governors and a public initiative banning nuclear waste from outside the state raised hell for a number of years, INL was one of the federal government's favorite dumps.

Public opinion first became inflamed when it was discovered that INL had secretly used injection wells to dispose of toxic materials and that an underground plume of toxic liquid was headed for the Snake River.

Enough was enough, and Idaho eventually crafted an agreement requiring the DOE to clean up existing waste and banning importation of additional waste.

The DOE had done a lot of bridge building to try to earn back public trust in the years since, so this newest bombshell was surprising.

Idaho has done its fair share in disposal of toxic materials. For example, INL was the recipient of much of what remained of the ill-fated Three Mile Island reactor, and cleanup of toxic materials is ongoing.

The DOE plans public meetings on its mercury disposal proposal.

Idahoans should back Gov. Otter and send the DOE packing with its ears ringing from the firm shouts of "No!"

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