Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has betrayed the trust of Idahoans by secretly inking a deal with the federal government that loosens restrictions on the importation and storage of spent nuclear fuel at the Idaho National Lab outside Idaho Falls.

Otter knows full well that 15 years ago Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, also a Republican, struck a deal with the federal government that reduced shipments of spent fuel to the INL from an anticipated 1,940 to 1,133 shipments over 40 years and required that the federal government remove the waste in 35 years or face $60,000 a day in fines.

Batt did so under pressure from a voter initiative that could have seriously curtailed or ended disposal of nuclear waste from outside the state. Batt's deal was unsatisfactory, and Otter's made it worse.

What kind of governor believes that a state that is already home to vast stores of radioactive waste should welcome more?

The fact that nuclear waste disposal inspired heated public debate across the state in the early 1990s because the INL is located over a major aquifer and on top of an active earthquake fault meant nothing to Otter, who made the new deal without uttering a word to the public. He also asked the few people he did consult, including former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, a Democrat, to keep quiet about what he was considering.

Andrus, who once threatened to block trains carrying waste to the INL, isn't being quiet now, and he should have raised the alarm earlier.

He says the deal makes Idaho the de facto storage site for the nation's nuclear waste, especially now that the federal government has refused to open permanent storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where waste from Idaho was to go.

His statement is chilling: "The good news is the Department of Energy has found a place to store nuclear waste. The bad news is it's between Idaho Falls and Arco."

Why did Otter, who hates the federal wolf reintroduction program, who opposes any new federally designated wilderness and who led the state to spend scarce cash to sue to stop federal health-care reform, make a deal with his self-described devil?

How could Otter, who rails on incessantly about preserving states' rights against federal power, turn coat and invite more shipments of radioactive waste along Idaho's highways and railways to end up atop an aquifer whose waters flow into the Snake River near Twin Falls and support food production?

Former Gov. Batt supports the deal and says the state must "do its part" to help the nation achieve energy independence.

Unfortunately, some "parts" are better than others.

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