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Wendy Wilson

"I'm not against nuclear technology. I'm anti-nuclear proliferation, anti-nuclear contamination. It makes me cry to think of how irresponsible we've become."


Wendy Wilson vividly recalls when, in 1984, she was on a flight to Boise preparing to become the new director of the Idaho Conservation League.

"I was carrying a book with me, The Power of Yes," Wilson said. "I was going to be reasonable, listen to all sides and was convinced that everyone would understand good intentions."

Sitting next to her was an executive from Morrison-Knudsen, the all-powerful Boise-based construction conglomerate.

"He looked at me and said, 'I'm from M-K, and we don't like obstructionists,'" said Wilson.

Wilson has since heard her share of eye-opening remarks at ICL, as founder and executive director of Idaho Rivers United and Advocates for the West, and, this year, as the new executive director of the Snake River Alliance.

Is it fair to say that some of the change you hoped for when you were younger has come much slower than you expected?

None of us live long enough to see our worst nightmares come true. It's fair to say that we have lost more on the consumption end of the environmental equation. The two worst things on the planet have been the internal combustion engine and the burning of stuff to make electricity.

Some would disagree with your argument of the internal combustion engine being one of the worst things on the planet.

If we had electric cars, we wouldn't need car shops. If we didn't need car shops, we wouldn't have people delivering oil from refineries. We're caught in self-perpetuating reality. It's not sustainable.

The Snake River Alliance has a fascinating history.

There have been many creation myths about how the Snake River Alliance began. One has to do with some farmers in Buhl, another has to do with the Sho-Ban tribes talking to people in Pocatello, another is two people in Julia Davis Park talking about nuclear waste.

So, what's the truth?

Wait, there's another: That it started in a Ketchum coffee shop. They're all true. They all came together and created the Snake River Alliance.

Let's talk nuclear. It's stunning that a legacy from the Three Mile Island nuclear accident is in Idaho. Core debris is sitting over at the Idaho National Lab.

I've seen it—it's sitting in a big above-ground cask the size of several trailers, with a chain-link fence around it. Occasionally, about once a year, someone checks the ground for leakage.

What are the viable options for getting that out of Idaho?

There are no functioning, safe repositories on the planet for nuclear waste.

Yet, nuclear waste continues to come into Idaho.

The U.S. Navy continues to send nuclear waste each year. There's about 1,000 metric tons of nuclear waste in Idaho.

What's the biggest, most immediate nuclear threat in the Gem State?

Nine hundred thousands gallons of liquid waste below ground, in old metal tanks. It could be impacted by any seismic activity. I'm not against nuclear technology. I'm anti-nuclear proliferation, anti-nuclear contamination. It makes me cry to think of how irresponsible we've become.

Let's talk about something more pleasant. I would be remiss if I didn't note your organization recently wrapped up its Solarize the Valley initiative.

Installing 50 kilowatts of solar power to the rooftops of 40,000 households and businesses.

It's impressive that you surpassed your goals. Can I assume a lot of homeowners are still shoppers and not buyers when it comes to solar rooftops?

You're paying up front for the energy you'll use over the next eight to 10 years, but there's a long-term benefit and the federal government just extended a 30 percent tax credit. Look, we have pretty low electric rates in Idaho and, right now, the payoff is longer in Idaho than a lot of places, but it's still an amazingly good investment. If I paint my house, five or eight years from now, that paint job doesn't pay for itself. But we're talking about solar systems that take about that long to pay for themselves.