Former Idaho Governors: Strong Words for Otter's New Nuclear Waste Deal

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Former Idaho Governors Phil Batt (left) and Cecil Andrus address a room of reporters on Thursday morning, appalled at Gov. Butch Otter's attempt to bring more nuclear waste to Idaho. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Former Idaho Governors Phil Batt (left) and Cecil Andrus address a room of reporters on Thursday morning, appalled at Gov. Butch Otter's attempt to bring more nuclear waste to Idaho.

Former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus said Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's recent decision to reopen importation of spent nuclear fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory was "done in the dark of night."

Democrat Andrus sat aside former Republican Governor Phil Batt, at the Andrus Center for Public Policy on Thursday morning, and both were clearly upset and appalled that Otter would break Batt's 1995 landmark agreement, forbidding any more nuclear waste to come into Idaho. 

"Neither one of us have any intention of letting this decision by two of the elected officials in the state of Idaho (Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden) come to pass," Andrus said.

Both the governors spent large amounts of their terms stopping the importation of spent nuclear fuel into Idaho. Batt produced the 1995 Agreement, which was then ratified by more than 60 percent of Idaho voters. 

"It's not my agreement, it's Idaho's agreement," Batt said.

But in spite of that 1995 pact,  Otter and Wasden have agreed to receive 50 spent nuclear rods, each weighting 1,500 pounds, for a total of 37.5 tons of nuclear waste, according to Andrus. The letter between Wasden and the Department of Energy states that the nuclear waste will be used for "research purposes."

Batt doesn't buy that. He wrote a letter to Otter on Jan. 12, criticizing Otter's decision and reprimanding him for going ahead with it without consulting Batt or Andrus.

The danger of the waste accumulating at the Idaho National Laboratory, Batt said, is the risk it poses for the Snake River Aquifer, directly under the repository site.

"If there was contamination in that water," Batt said, "it would cause our potato industry to fold up. It would cause fish farms to fold up in Magic Valley. It would create all kind of problems with municipal water."

"It could gain $10 million in revenue, but that isn't one tenth of one percent of what you're gambling against if any of that waste gets lose in the aquifer," Andrus added.

Throughout the press conference, Batt was calm and firm. Andrus on the other hand—expressed outright anger.

"I read in the paper that the Governor is concerned about his legacy, how many terms he will lead and so forth," Andrus said. "I will tell you what his legacy will be. It's going to be that they've created a Yucca Mountain in Idaho. That the two of them have done to this state what every other state and this state until now has opposed—and that is the importation of high-level radioactive waste for Idaho for storage."

Andrus and Batt's greatest fear with Otter's decision is that Idaho will be stuck with the nuclear waste forever, and turn the state into the nuclear waste repository for America—and without any input from Idahoans.

"If this was so important to the state of Idaho and how we were going to gain from it, why didn't he mention it in his State of the State address?" Andrus said. "I'll tell you why, it's because he didn't want the people to know what they'd done in the dark of night in secrecy, in breaking this agreement and letting new waste come into the state of Idaho. It's a travesty," Andrus added, raising his voice.

"I've been around a long time," Andrus said, "But I guess I'm going to have to live a bit longer because we're not going to put up with this."