BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is turning the state into a nuclear waste repository, former Idaho Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus say.
The former governors at a Thursday morning news conference blasted Otter's recently revealed deal with the U.S. Department of Energy to allow 50 spent nuclear fuel rods into the Idaho National Laboratory for research.
"You take an ounce of the waste from the federal government, they want to give you 10,000 pounds," said Batt, a Republican in office from 1995 to 1999.
The two former governors appeared visibly angry with Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden for what they said was making a deal that violated an agreement Batt made with the federal government in his first year in office.
"The two of them have done to this state what every other state has opposed and we have opposed to this day and that is the importation of high-level waste into Idaho for storage," said Andrus, a Democrat who fought nuclear waste shipments when he served from 1971 to 1977 and again from 1987 to 1995.
The 1995 agreement requires the federal government to remove nuclear waste from the southeastern Idaho facility. But the federal government has missed significant deadlines in recent years.
Otter, answering questions Thursday afternoon following a public awards ceremony on a different topic, defended the decision.
"The positive impact of that decision is it could be upward of $20 million a year for the next five years for the lab," he said.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in a letter to Otter dated Dec. 16, said funding for the research associated with the nuclear waste could bring up to $20 million annually through the end of the decade. Twenty-five spent fuel rods would arrive in June and another 25 in January 2016.
Andrus and Batt said the $20 million is a tiny fraction compared to what the state could lose economically if the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, which is under the nuclear facility, ever becomes contaminated. For one, they said, Idaho's potato growers in the region would be out of business because no one would want to buy potentially radioactive potatoes.
Andrus said the waste shipments weighed a combined 37.5 tons. But Tim Jackson, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, told The Associated Press that each shipment of spent fuel rods weighed from 88 to 110 pounds, or a potential maximum of 220 pounds of nuclear waste in all.
Wasden on Thursday defended the deal as legal, citing documents with highlighted passages passed out to reporters. He said the main thrust of the deal is to provide an incentive for the Department of Energy to abide by the 1995 agreement and remove nuclear waste from the facility. That process is currently at a standstill, he noted.
If the federal agency, he said, doesn't take actions to meet its obligation under the 1995 agreement, then the state won't allow the 50 spent fuels rods into Idaho.
However, it's not clear what showing compliance means, and Wasden declined to speculate.
The Department of Energy is in violation of its agreement with Idaho in two areas. Malfunctions with a $571 million facility continue to cause delays turning 900,000 gallons of liquid waste into a solid form. The high-level radioactive waste came from processing spent nuclear fuel from U.S. Navy ships and is stored in tanks.
The second violation is because an underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico is not taking shipments of low-level waste due to recent mishaps at that facility, leaving the waste stuck in Idaho past deadlines set in the 1995 agreement.
Both Batt and Andrus contended the federal government has all the incentive it needs to stick to the 1995 agreement, which has survived federal court challenges, and all the new deal does is bring more high-level nuclear waste into the state.
Batt and Andrus, now 87 and 83 respectively, vowed to keep fighting.
"I've been around a long time and I guess I'm going to have to live longer because we're not going to put up with this," Andrus said.