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LINE Commission: Nuclear waste presents opportunity for Idaho

The governor’s LINE Commission presented its report on the future of the nuclear industry in Idaho to the state Legislature on Wednesday, saying that it’s to the state’s advantage to help the federal government solve its nuclear waste storage problem.

Leadership In Nuclear Energy Commission Chairman Jeff Sayer, also the Idaho Department of Commerce director, called the state’s cleanup agreement with the federal government one of the most important documents in Idaho history. But Sayer said Idaho must either “improve it or improve Idaho’s position in it.”

That agreement requires the federal government to move Cold War-era radioactive waste out of Idaho by 2035. Still, Sayer said the government’s failure to open the long-term Yucca Mountain, Nev., storage facility would make meeting that goal virtually impossible.

If it failed to meet that deadline, the federal government would be required to pay the state a penalty of $60,000 a day or $22 million a year. Sayer told lawmakers that might be more of an incentive than a deterrent. Given the number of waste-related lawsuits facing the government, he said the cheapest way for the federal government to deal with its waste issues could be paying the fines. And that could be done by trimming the money out of existing INL budgets.

Calling it a “significant industrial opportunity” Sayer said the commission proposed a six-point plan. They included a focus on attracting nuclear business, an expansion of Idaho university, INL expansion, an expansion of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls, and strengthening and expanding the state’s workforce.

Sayer said the federal government already has a $27 billion commitment to nuclear waste management solutions and an annual budget of $750 million. But, he said the feds had not yet outlined their policy direction.

The commission also endorsed continued cleanup management of the INL site and ongoing work by a state advisory board.

The presentation was given at a joint meeting of the Senate Resources and Environment and House Environment, Energy and Technology committees as part of the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment’s Gold Room Workshop series.

In a news release Wednesday, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter voiced his support for the commission’s findings.

“I concur wholeheartedly with the commission’s assessment that the Idaho National Laboratory is a significant state asset,” Otter said. “The State of Idaho should take immediate and long-term steps to enhance the future of the nation’s lead nuclear research and development laboratory that is responsible for over 24,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact on Idaho of more than $3.5 billion.”

However, not everyone agrees with the commission’s findings.

“What this is about is what the Snake River Alliance warned might come out of the LINE Commission’s report: A back-door attempt to circumvent the will of Idahoans who voted emphatically that we will not consent to an ever growing nuclear waste burden,” said Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff in a news release. “The nuclear waste storage business is not an economic opportunity.”

Woodruff said that should additional nuclear waste be allowed into Idaho auspiciously for “interim” storage, there would be a strong likelihood that the waste would remain the state permanently for the lack of another storage site.

For more on the Snake River Alliance’s position on the issue, see . The LINE Commission’s website is

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