Gov. candidates weigh in on nuclear cleanup deal






The two Democratic candidates to be Idaho’s next governor want the state to take a tough stance on enforcing the 1995 Settlement Agreement, while the Republicans were more open to modifying the agreement and granting waivers to allow the shipment of research fuel into the state.

The 1995 Agreement sets milestones for the federal government to clean up and remove nuclear waste. If the feds miss one, the state’s recourse is to suspend small shipments of spent nuclear fuel INL uses for research.

In 2012, the Department of Energy missed a deadline to treat 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste. Its treatment has been delayed by technical problems for years since then, although the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit may start processing waste for shipment out of the state by the end of the year. Another major deadline, to remove all transuranic waste from the state, is coming up at the end of 2018.

A.J. Balukoff, one of two major Democratic candidates running in the primary, put out a statement over the weekend “calling on Idaho’s state and federal lawmakers to insist the federal government abide by the terms of the landmark 1995 Nuclear Agreement.”

“With 900,000 gallons of liquid nuclear waste perched above the Snake River aquifer, Idaho can’t afford to be weak on this issue,” Balukoff said. “The Idaho National Lab will continue to be on the cutting edge of nuclear research, but Idaho shouldn’t become a nuclear waste dump in the process. The Feds must honor the agreement and treat the most dangerous nuclear material on site before the aging tanks become a threat to our aquifer.”

Former state Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, who resigned from the Legislature on Wednesday to focus on her campaign, is Balukoff’s opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. She said there should be “no exceptions whatsoever to the commitments of the 1995 Settlement Agreement.”

“The state of Idaho should not be a dumping ground for the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel and the federal government should not be allowed to renege on what it agreed to do,” she said. “It is not just a matter of principle, but a matter of protecting our sustainable resources for the prolonged life of our citizens, ecosystem and food industry.”

By contrast, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, one of three major Republican candidates for the job, said he would support waivers to the agreement to allow shipments of research fuel for INL.

“The 1995 Settlement Agreement has been good for Idaho,” Labrador said in an email. “But the time has come to take a step back and ask ourselves if the Settlement Agreement is helping Idaho or hurting it. I believe thoughtful modifications to the Settlement Agreement are necessary and can solidify Idaho’s role as a leader in nuclear energy and will provide significant economic benefits to Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is also running for governor and is co-chairman of the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission that works on INL issues for the state, said ”any good plan moving forward requires the next governor to work to update the 1995 settlement agreement to meet two key objectives — prioritizing environmental cleanup and retaining the incredible assets at the INL. The success of these objectives is interdependent.

“Allowing shipments of small quantities of research fuel maintains the INL’s premier status,” Little continued. “It facilitates additional resources and talent for research, (while) also ensuring the resources remain in Idaho for cleaning up and shipping out legacy waste.”

Treasure Valley developer and GOP candidate Tommy Ahlquist said he would be open to new shipments “as long as we can get consensus from all stakeholders, it’s done safely, and improves and protects Idaho’s position.” However, he also believes Idaho needs to “hold the federal government accountable to the ’95 agreement.”

“As governor, I will work closely and respectfully with the Attorney General, who is a dual signer and responsible for ensuring the agreement is being followed, along with working closely with INL, (the Department of Energy) and our congressional delegation to improve, update and protect Idaho’s position on the agreement and to continue to expand the mission,” Ahlquist said.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is not seeking another term. Balukoff and Jordan are running for the Democratic nomination to succeed him; Ahlquist, Labrador and Little are running for the Republican nomination.The primary is in May.

Ahlquist heralded INL’s economic role, and said new research shipments would be a “win-win for Idaho.”

“Having witnessed first hand the cutting-edge technology, research and work done at the lab, it is second to none in the world,” he said. “I will make it a top priority as governor to work with INL and all key stakeholders to continue to expand its mission and protect Idaho’s best interests.”

Little, too, said he is “dedicated to advancing the Idaho National Laboratory and maintaining its status as the lead nuclear research laboratory in the U.S. It is absolutely critical for America’s energy and national security, and important to Idaho’s economic future.”

Labrador said the state had “made modifications to the agreement in the past that have benefited Idaho without compromising the environmental cleanup activities in Idaho.” He also said he would work with the Department of Energy “to ensure they finish the job of cleaning up the remaining liquid waste and stay on track to ship all the designated fuel out of the state.”

Jordan said she would be “solidly adamant” that cleanup deadlines be met.

“I would not allow any room for the federal government to renegotiate what they have already committed to as part of the agreement,” she said. “The INL should not be allowed to become permanent waste storage and transit facility but (I) understand the INL’s need for shipments as our nation’s leading nuclear research laboratory.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757.