Former Idaho Governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt threatened on Thursday to sue the U.S. Energy Department to prevent what they said was its efforts to turn the state into “a nuclear waste dumping ground.”
In a letter notifying the Energy Department of a possible lawsuit, the pair accused it of violating a federal environmental law by planning to ship spent nuclear fuel from elsewhere for study at the Idaho National Laboratory, the department’s flagship nuclear research facility.
A 1995 agreement hammered out between Idaho and the Energy Department bans shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel. The deal stemmed from previous lawsuits by Andrus, a Democrat, and Batt, a Republican, that charged the U.S. government with seeking to turn the sprawling lab complex near Idaho Falls into a de facto dumping ground for radioactive waste.
In January, Idaho’s current governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans, expressed conditional support for the shipment of some spent nuclear fuel to the lab for a research program, which would raise the facility’s profile and boost the eastern part of the state’s economy.
That support was contingent on the Energy Department complying with the 1995 accord, which had ordered it to remove from the state nuclear waste materials stored at Idaho National Lab to reduce impacts on the Snake River Plain aquifer, which supplies drinking water to tens of thousands of Idaho residents.
In Thursday’s letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Andrus and Batt alleged the agency had violated a federal law that requires detailed analyses of the environmental impact of activities proposed by the U.S. government. They said it had failed to disclose the scope of its plans for shipping spent nuclear fuel to the state.
“It is vital that the citizens of Idaho be fully informed before the federal government again tries to turn Idaho into a nuclear waste dumping ground,” the former governors said.
Otter said Andrus and Batt wrongly wished to clean up Idaho National Lab, only to shut it down.
“Continuing the valuable research at the lab with its world-class facilities and people is the future and one we should all work towards,” Otter said in a statement.
The Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)