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News Shorts June 9, 2004

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CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT, IT'S STILL RADIOACTIVE WASTE AND IT'S STILL LETHAL

On Thursday the U.S. Senate passed an amendment to reclassify radioactive waste to avoid cleaning it up.

The Graham Amendment, written by the Department of Energy (DOE) and added in committee by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) will allow DOE to abandon potentially millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste—by reclassifying it as low-level waste—in leaking tanks in South Carolina thereby setting an alarming precedent for similar nuclear waste cleanup sites in Idaho and Washington.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) proposed changes to Graham's amendment that would strike provisions reclassifying high-level nuclear waste. Cantwell's proposal lost in a tie vote.

Snubbing Governor Dirk Kempthorne, former governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt and congressmen Butch Otter and Mike Simpson—all of whom opposed the nuclear waste reclassification—senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo voted not to change Graham's proposal.

"We've overturned 30 years of nonpartisan consensus without a public hearing and in the face of active bi-partisan opposition from two of three states that store high-level waste," says Jeremy Maxand, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog group that sued the DOE to stop reclassification of high-level waste. "Idaho's senators should be ashamed for not supporting Idaho's governor and protecting Idaho's water, as well as major water systems around the country."

DOE is responsible for cleaning up 253 underground tanks containing approximately 100 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste in Idaho, Washington, South Carolina and New York. The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) near Idaho Falls houses 11 tanks perched above the Snake River Aquifer holding 900,000 gallons of radioactive waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

In the 1950s a nuclear waste dumpathon began at INEEL. The waste arrived in cardboard boxes, oil drums, wooden crates and was simply buried in the dirt.

In 1965 scientists estimated it would take 80,000 years for the radioactive waste to seep into the Snake River Aquifer, which provides drinking water for nearly 300,000 people.

In 1995 scientists amended that estimate to 30 years.

The Graham Amendment is a nasty compromise for Idaho—it restores $95 million in federal cleanup funds, but could set a precedent for reclassifying Idaho's waste in the same manner South Carolina's waste is being reclassified courtesy of Sen. Graham.

"This struggle is far from over," says Jeremy Maxand. "The House of Representatives does not support the notion of unilateral reclassification. And instead, calls for a study by the National Academies of Sciences. In the meantime, we are encouraged by the tie vote, which clearly demonstrated deep uneasiness about this dangerous path."

Craig and Crapo insist they will not allow Idaho's high-level nuclear waste to be reclassified.

COLLEGE GRADUATES BECOMING AN ENDANGERED SPECIES IN IDAHO

Idaho ranks 39th in the nation in number of residents who are college graduates according to a recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Only 22.6 percent—less than one in four—of Idahoans 25 years and older have at least a bachelor's degree.

The national average is 25.9 percent.

How did other Western states fare in their advanced book learnin'?: Colorado (3rd); Washington (11th); California (13th); Alaska (15th); Utah (17th); Oregon (20th); Montana (23rd); Wyoming (34th). Only Nevada fared worse than Idaho coming in 49th with only 18.6 of residents holding a college degree.

Seattle earned top honors as the most educated city with nearly half of its population (48.8 percent) 25 years and older having at least a bachelor's degree.

States with the highest percentages of college graduates were: Washington, D.C. (42.5 percent); Massachusetts (35.5 percent); Colorado (33.5 percent); Maryland (33.1 percent); Connecticut (32.9 percent); and Virginia (31.7 percent).

HAPPY TRAILS FOR COWBOY RONNIE

Ronald Reagan succumbed to Alzheimer's disease on Saturday at the age of 93.

The movie star turned two-term president is best known for quelling the Cold War.

A local nondenominational, community-wide memorial service for the late president takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, at First Presbyterian Church, 950 W. State Street in downtown Boise. Governor Dirk Kempthorne will speak at the service. Reverend Rich Demerest from St. Michael's and Mark Davis from First Presbyterian will preside over the memorial.

PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION BAN BANNED

A federal judge in San Francisco declared that the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton last week issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the law in hundreds of clinics and doctors' offices across the United States.

In a 117-page decision, Hamilton said the ban imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to choose, is unconstitutionally vague in its description of the medical procedure and fails to include an exception to protect a woman's health.

The inflammatorily titled law (PL 108-105) was enacted last fall after an eight-year crusade by the Bush administration and social conservatives.

It was the first federal statute to restrict an abortion procedure since the Supreme Court legalized abortions in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

In her ruling, Hamilton slammed the term "partial-birth abortion," writing that it is "neither recognized in the medical literature nor used by physicians who routinely perform second-trimester abortions."

Ninety percent of the 1.3 million abortions performed in America each year take place in the first trimester, which the federal law does not affect.

U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK

The Outstanding Public Debt as of June 8 is $7,219,861,559,254.90.

The estimated population of the United States is 294,257,352, so each citizen's share of this debt is $24,533.87.

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $1.73 billion per day since September 30, 2003.

Source: www.brillig.com/debt_clock/

U.S./IRAQ DEATH TALLY

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of 10 a.m. Monday, June 7, 822 U.S. service members have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 605 in combat and 217 from noncombat-related incidents and accidents. Twenty-five U.S. soldiers died in the last two weeks.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 9,356 and 11,232.

Source: www.iraqbodycount.org

COST OF WAR: $116,850,000,000.

Source: costofwar.com

—Compiled by Cynthia Sewell

Got a news tip? E-mail cynthia@boiseweekly.com or call 344-2055 ext. 3020.