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Idaho Ponders Its Nuclear Future

Idaho Governor Butch Otter
Nuclear Notes highlighted Governor Butch Otter’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy commission when he formed it last February. Now, the group is beginning to issue reports.
Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter today encouraged the people of Idaho to review the progress of his Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission and to begin a public dialogue on critical questions facing the Idaho National Laboratory and their potential impact on Idaho’s economy.
This might sound like an "uh-oh, maybe this isn’t going to go so well" sort of moment, but Governor Otter is actually quite the fan of INL:
“The timing was right for an extensive, external review of INL and nuclear-related activities in Idaho,” Governor Otter said. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory. There’s been significant economic benefit to the entire state. As we sustain and even try to build on that in the future, the Commission is working to answer some tough questions and I applaud its effort to involve the public in that discussion before making final recommendations.”
If you look at the news clips on his home page, you’ll see that Otter is very engaged with energy issues. This we already knew. The commission and its report are something else again and show the state really grappling with where it wants to go with nuclear energy, with INL representing an Idaho success story, Clearly, Otter wants to expand that success into related areas. The questions about INL and nuclear energy in Idaho that the commission was charged with reviewing are really worthwhile:
In its final report to the Governor, the Commission will use the subcommittee recommendations, input from the public and its own deliberations to finalize recommendations on the following questions:
  1. What strategic role can the INL and Idaho’s nuclear industry play in the country’s energy future?
  2. In light of reduced federal spending, what impacts may affect INL and what role can Idaho play to protect INL research and cleanup funding?
  3. What broad environmental risks are posed by nuclear technologies and what mitigating steps are reasonable to protect public health and the environment from current and future applications of nuclear technology in Idaho?
  4. Where is nuclear technology going and what role and/or opportunities exist for INL and Idaho companies in those technology developments?
  5. Given the Blue Ribbon Commission focus on consent-based siting and the suspension of the Yucca Mountain repository, in what way can Idaho’s 1995 Settlement Agreement protect the State’s interests to support and enhance research and development at INL and complete the cleanup mission?
  6. How can Idaho’s universities influence, support and participate in the future of nuclear energy, nuclear workforce development, and advancements in nuclear technologies?
  7. Following the impacts of the Fukushima tsunami and the recent market impact of natural gas, what future role will nuclear energy play in the nation’s energy policies and what can Idaho do to prepare for that future?
Some of the answers here may seem self-evident to nuclear advocates, but all are worth answering to create a meaningful report.

The commission’s progress report Otter refers to above is here. It’s worth a complete read, though the agreements between Idaho and INL to safeguard nuclear materials on the INL site and clean up waste takes up a lot of pages. (Long story short: the effort has been very successful. Still, it’s very specific where most of the report is concerned with more general – and, from my perspective, more broadly applicable – topics.)

I liked this bit about the post Fukushima environment for nuclear energy (page 28):
Outside of Europe and Japan, the concerns raised by Fukushima are not diminishing this long-term international interest and demand for nuclear energy. Regulators in the U.S. and in other leading nuclear nations are responding prudently and putting necessary changes in place to deal with extreme external events and improve public confidence. While the safety of the global nuclear enterprise should become even better as result of these efforts, many of post-Fukushima recommendations had already been implemented in the U.S. after 9/11.
This is quite true – no doubt why I like it – and very straightforwardly expressed – not as common as it should be. I’ll just highlight one more thing before leaving the rest to you – the recommendation that Idaho host an interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel, as first promoted by the President’s blue ribbon commission (page 36):
As the lead US Regional Interim Storage facility, demonstrate full scale technology, licensing, and operations for the nation’s regional used fuel storage facilities.
• Considerable investments (100s of million dollar) into RD&D infrastructure at the site with additional jobs
• Investments into fuel cycle options demonstrations at engineering scale (100s of jobs)
• Spinoffs commercializing innovative technologies
Jobs, good salaries, the potential to seed commercial activity: Idaho sees the possibilities. This is part of a strong list of nuclear-related activities that the commission recommends Idaho consider.
This is one of the most thorough looks at nuclear energy and its potential that I’ve seen from a state. Other states could easily use it as a model if they are similarly interested.


jim said…
Re: "Outside of Europe and Japan, the concerns raised by Fukushima are not diminishing this long-term international interest and demand for nuclear energy..."

Call me dense, but I'd love to sit down with these German and Japanese and Swiss (etc) leaders to drill them about these "concerns." I know it's so obvious it's overlooked, but if there was a time for an energy plant to pass the grand acid test under maximum adverse conditions it was Fukushima, and instead of asking themselves aren't they missing a much anticipated body count and property devastation tally, they're skittish about and having misgivings about nuclear energy based on what DIDN'T happen in the wake of the worst chances to -- and virtually nil compared the oil/gas plant mortality and damage in the same quake. Seems their knee jerk "concerns" has it totally backward as well as looking a zero-casualty pollutionless gift horse in the mouth.

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
Chancellor Merkel has a Doctorate in Quantum Physics. You would have an interesting conversation.
Joffan said…
Anon: the decisions in Germany weren't about physics. They were about politics.
trag said…
A degree in physics doesn't mean that the holder knows anything about engineering realities, or biological effects, or even that the holder has ever considered the specific issues inherent to nuclear electricity generation.

Engineers and scientists are just as capable as everyone else of being focused narrowly on their field and ignorant of topics which appear closely related.

Of course, it's also possible that Merkel is just a selfish dolt.

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