There are several developments since the settlement between Idaho and DOE was negotiated. The elephant in the room is that it now appears that there will never be a waste repository licensed to accept high-level radioactive waste. The states in which that waste now resides are stuck with it for generations to come. DOE could retrieve the highly radioactive calcine from the existing bins but then there would be no place able to accept it.

Jim Delmore

Jim Delmore

Idaho needs to come to terms with that reality and be prepared to renegotiate the Batt agreement. The first thing to ask “is the calcine safer exactly where it is or would it be safer if it were moved to above ground casks?” I worked at the Chem plant when the bins were being installed and remember that they were designed to last for many hundreds of years; long enough for the penetrating radiation to decay to a very small fraction of its original level. At that point it could be safely retrieved and processed for geologic disposal. Keep in mind that it would be non-trivial to safely retrieve it in its current stage of radioactive decay.

With the pending completion of the cleanup of the Rocky Flats waste, it may be time to reconsider the entire agreement. A balanced agreement could benefit both sides. First, there are parts of the original agreement that have gone very well and the Rocky Flats waste drums that are about to finally be put to rest are the first example.

Second, there are things that are not in the agreement that should be added to a new agreement. I am thinking of the chlorinated hydrocarbons in the ground beneath the burial ground. DOE is successfully remediating this contaminate but has not identified its origin; at least not to the public. There is a possibility that it is originating from the remaining portion of the burial ground that has not been remediated.

With the aquifer having been depleted and now being recharged it is possible that migration of the liquid/vapor hydrocarbons in the ground might be accelerated.

Remediating the rest of the burial ground and adding chlorinated hydrocarbon removal to a new agreement would put this entire issue to bed once and for all.

If these compromises were incorporated into a well-crafted agreement both sides would gain. The state gains from a completely safe aquifer and DOE gains from not being forced into having to prematurely removing the calcine and storing it in above ground casts that will remain in Idaho because no other state will accept them.

James Delmore is a retired scientist.

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