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LINE Commission’s Report on Budget, INL and Nuclear Power

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 8:28 pmNo Comment

Lane Allgood, executive director of the Idaho Falls-based Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) in Pocatello, and Jack Snyder.

By Mark Mendiola

Release of the Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission’s final report to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and impending threats to the Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) federal funding have made Lane Allgood even more passionate in his defense of the INL in particular and nuclear power in general.

Allgood, executive director of the Idaho Falls-based Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) since September 2006, was quick to emphasize when he recently addressed the Rotary Club of Pocatello and City Club of Idaho Falls that his comments were his own, not those of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) or the INL.

Allgood plans to accompany an eastern Idaho entourage to Washington D.C. March 12-15 for an annual visit at the nation’s capital to meet with key DOE decision makers and lawmakers and voice support for continued work at INL. Given the ongoing federal budget crisis, their task could prove daunting.

When asked at a February 15 Idaho Falls luncheon about how the March 1 “sequestration” – that could slash billions of dollars in federal spending – will impact INL, Allgood replied that a legislator in Boise asked INL Director John Grossenbacher the same question. “It could be catastrophic,” Allgood said.

Grossenbacher reportedly said in a worst case scenario, INL could take a 30 percent hit in federal funding cuts if sequestration’s vise-like grip takes hold, which would adversely impact nuclear research, development and waste cleanup projects at the site.

The second largest employer in Idaho, INL accounts for about 8,000 direct jobs and roughly 24,000 indirect jobs in the state, boasting a $3.5 billion total economic impact. About 3.5 percent of Idaho’s total work force is attributed to INL with one in five jobs from Pocatello to Rexburg tied to the federal site, including 760 employees in Pocatello and about 1,200 in Blackfoot.

INL generates about 6 percent of Idaho’s entire tax revenue.

Battelle Energy Alliance and CH2M-WG Idaho, INL’s two main contractors, have eliminated hundreds of INL jobs in the past year or so. Allgood remembers when total INL employment peaked at 13,000. The Idaho Cleanup Project has succeeded in achieving 959 of its 964 milestones since 2005.

Allgood was in Boise when the LINE Commission’s final report was made official on Feb. 6. Otter signed the executive order creating the commission chaired by Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer at an Idaho Falls Rotary meeting in February 2012.

Allgood says he is especially pleased that the LINE Commission incorporated into its report a PST recommendation that an Idaho nuclear advisory council be established to report directly to the government.

“If you go and talk to nuclear support businesses and don’t have the support of the state, you won’t get very far,” he says.

Allgood also lauds the commission’s recommendation that the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) in Idaho Falls be expanded. CAES is a collaborative effort between the INL, Idaho State University, Boise State University and the University of Idaho.

It’s an extremely important resource for the health of the INL budget and the state’s economy, he says.

“It’s been very, very successful in recruiting faculty we probably couldn’t get,” Allgood says, noting universities from other states have approached CAES to express interest in involvement. “Nuclear experts don’t necessarily want to work for a federal facility.”

Allgood criticizes news accounts of the LINE Commission recommendations for perpetuating what he calls a misconception that spent nuclear reactor fuel is waste. “Most engineers and scientists do not consider it waste.”

Ninety percent of the fuel burned by nuclear reactors is still useable, he says. When it is removed, it is “very hot and very radioactive” and can take three to four years to cool in wet storage.

In 1998, the U.S. government was supposed to take ownership of spent fuel stored at the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors and move it to a federal repository. Now, 68,000 metric tons of spent fuel are stored at the reactors where it was produced.

 

However, the Obama administration decided to withdraw the federal government’s license request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which leaves spent nuclear fuel and high level waste stored at INL and scores of other sites nowhere to go.

 

“That’s put everybody in a quandary,” Allgood says, calling that decision “purely political.”

 

Washington state and South Carolina have sued the federal government for pulling Yucca Mountain’s licensing. Allgood says he expects a court ruling soon on their lawsuit. “I expect a decision any day.”

DOE’s latest plan calls for a spent fuel repository to be operable by 2048 with one interim storage site established by 2021 and a larger one by 2025. It spent $10 billion developing Yucca Mountain. DOE’s 1995 settlement with Idaho calls for nuclear waste to be out of the state by 2035.

“In my mind, storing this material (spent nuclear fuel) in eastern Idaho is not a threat,” Allgood says, adding the LINE Commission has not recommended that waste be brought into the state. “Interim storage wouldn’t have to be on the INL site. It should be a state-operated entity.”

Nationwide, utilities with spent fuel pay $750 million each year into a federal fund that has grown to $28 billion. If Idaho were to agree to an interim storage site, it could tap into that money and conceivably fund its entire education system, he says. PST recommended to the LINE Commission that Idaho not adamantly refuse to take spent fuel until incentives are made clear.

“That sends a message to DOE that maybe Idaho isn’t as gung ho for nuclear energy,” Allgood says. “We need to make sure we don’t lose sight or focus on what the lab means to us.”

He says he fears Idaho could lose INL programs or even the entire lab to more aggressive states. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has stated her state will go after DOE funding for its Savannah River National Laboratory as if it were trying to land the Olympics.

Because spent fuel is encased in stainless steel containers enclosed in thick concrete, it would not be a threat to the Snake River Aquifer (which lies 350 to 600 feet below land surface) if the fuel were kept in interim storage in Idaho, Allgood says.

PST was created by business people more than six years ago as a private, non-profit organization to advance science and technology, especially advocating the national economic and energy benefits of atomic power.

Wherever Allgood speaks, he stresses PST is entirely funded by membership dues, not government funds, outside foundations or grants. “I do not work for INL or contractors.”

The partnership was influential in persuading French AREVA to decide on constructing a uranium enrichment plant on the Arco Desert west of Idaho Falls and has striven to convince manufacturers of nuclear components to expand into the Gem State.

About the Author:
Based in Pocatello, Mark Mendiola has been an Eastern Idaho journalist for more than 30 years, primarily covering business and economic issues. In addition to working in communications for AMI Semiconductor Inc. and CH2M-WG Idaho, Mendiola has hosted and produced since December 2000 “Business Dynamics,” an interview program on Vision 12, Pocatello’s cable access television station. His articles and photographs have appeared in numerous publications.

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