Ex-governor of Idaho sues feds seeking info on nuclear fuel proposal

KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press
FILE - In this May 11, 2015, file photo, nuclear waste is stored in underground containers at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho. Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Department of Energy to release information about proposed shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel to the eastern Idaho facility. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise contends the federal agency is failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requirements. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler, File)
Copyright 2015, The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho governor has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Department of Energy to release information about proposed shipments of spent commercial nuclear fuel to an Idaho facility.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boise contends the federal agency is failing to comply with Freedom of Information Act requirements.

"It is clear that the federal government is withholding information from the people of Idaho that will allow all of us to more completely assess what they have in mind in both the short and long term with regard to commercial spent fuel coming to Idaho," former Gov. Cecil Andrus said in a statement.

Andrus, a Democrat, and former Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican, both fought commercial nuclear waste shipments during their terms. Their efforts culminated with a 1995 agreement that bans commercial nuclear waste shipments and requires cleanup of nuclear waste stored at the laboratory.

Andrus said the federal agency replied to his previous request for information with dozens of redacted pages. The agency responding to inquiries by The Associated Press on Tuesday said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The possible nuclear waste shipments to the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho first became public in January. In a letter that month to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agreed to a waiver of the 1995 agreement that would allow two shipments, each with 25 spent commercial nuclear fuel rods, into Idaho for research.

Otter noted the deal would bring as much as $20 million a year for the next five years to the state.

The lawsuit filed by Andrus contends that the Department of Energy plans to ship tons of nuclear waste to Idaho rather than just the 50 fuel rods publicly disclosed. The Idaho National Laboratory sits atop one of the state's largest aquifers, and Andrus has repeatedly said the nuclear waste poses a threat to communities and agricultural interests that rely on the aquifer.

The spent nuclear fuel shipments at the moment aren't being allowed into the state because the Department of Energy is in violation of its 1995 agreement because of malfunctions with a $571 million facility that are causing delays in turning 900,000 gallons of liquid waste into a solid form.

"I'm prepared today to grant the Department of Energy a one-time, conditional waiver to bring in the spent fuel if the agency can show me the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit is up and running and processing the liquid waste," Wasden said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Wasden has previously said allowing in the spent fuel rods for research would give the federal agency incentive to clean up nuclear waste already at the site.

Scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory say they can safely handle the two shipments of fuel rods and it's not the start of turning the state into a nuclear waste dump. Officials are also concerned that if the spent fuel goes elsewhere, the lab could lose its status as one of the nation's top nuclear research facilities.

On that front, Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer in a letter to Otter in early August said the federal agency planned to send a 2016 shipment elsewhere if it didn't receive approval to enter the state within two months. If accurate, that would put the approval deadline in early October.

The federal agency didn't immediately respond on Tuesday to an email from the AP seeking to confirm Sayer's statements.

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