Nuclear Research Agreement Is Positive Step Forward

Washington, January 27, 2011
Tags: Energy
I am writing to respond to the comments of former Governor Cecil Andrus and the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board regarding the recent agreement between the State of Idaho and the Department of Energy (DOE) over future shipments of very small quantities of spent nuclear fuel for research purposes.
While I have a great deal of respect for the former Governor, I am disappointed in his opposition to this sensible agreement and even more disappointed that he is using outdated and unfounded arguments to oppose it. The former Governor’s distrust of the Department of Energy is well earned, but is in no way reflective of the recent history of accomplishment at the site and, in fact, hurts future efforts to attract jobs and investment in eastern Idaho.
First and foremost, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is the lead nuclear energy research facility in our nation. The Idaho Congressional Delegation and governors past and present sought that designation and have worked hard to grow that mission. Inherent with that mission is the responsibility to bring in small quantities of fuel for examination and to retain that fuel for future research purposes.
What baffles me about the opposition of Governor Andrus is his apparent failure to understand the important role of the Laboratory. After all, nuclear research is done on nuclear materials, and if the lab cannot secure materials for research, the thousands of jobs and significant financial investments reliant upon that research will be put at risk.
In his recent opinion piece, Governor Andrus also laments that the agreement comes with no assurance of new jobs or new investments at the Laboratory. This statement is misleading at best, and at worst it is intentionally designed to undermine the tremendous growth and progress that the Lab has experienced over the past five year.
As Governor Andrus well knows, over the past five years alone, INL has grown from a business volume of roughly $500 million a year to over $1 billion a year. Employment at INL has grown by hundreds of jobs, and some of the most difficult cleanup efforts have been tackled or are in the process of being tackled. INL’s talented workforce is beginning to occupy modern new buildings where old ones once stood. The battles that Governor Andrus fought with DOE were long ago won by the State of Idaho, and a new era of progress has emerged.
Today, INL is truly making a difference in nuclear energy research, and conducting research on nuclear materials, including those from commercial nuclear facilities, is an important part of that role. Those of us who support INL, its workforce, and its future have long acknowledged this work and strongly support it. The new agreement acknowledges it as well.  Contrary to Governor Andrus’s concerns that it opens the door to sending more nuclear waste to Idaho, this agreement actually protects Idaho from any such threat by putting in place a framework for ensuring only legitimate research activities can move forward.
The agreement Governor Otter signed with the Department of Energy not only protects thousands of Idaho jobs and helps fuel our state’s economy, it will help drive the creation of new jobs and new investments over the coming decade.