Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Partnership seeks voices for LINE Commission hearing Friday

Lane Allgood, Partnership for Science and Technology executive director
If Idaho Falls has a reputation as the most pro-nuclear community in the United States, few have worked harder or longer at presenting it in that light than Lane Allgood, executive director of the Partnership for Science and Technology.

Allgood's history of nuclear cheerleading goes back more than 25 years. In 1985, he organized a parade in support of bringing the Special Isotope Separation project to what was then the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

Even then, the handwriting was on the wall. Between 1951 and 1995, there were 52 reactors built on the desert west of Idaho Falls. Today there is one, the Advanced Test Reactor.

SIS didn't get built anywhere, the Cold War ended, and in the last 25 years much of the site's focus has shifted  to waste cleanup and environmental remediation. In the '90s, the work at INL was about 70 percent cleanup and 30 percent research and engineering. Today, Allgood estimates it's the other way around, but the employment numbers have grown.

Will the lab ever land a big new nuclear project?

Only if people in the community stand up and voice support for the idea, Allgood said Tuesday morning at an "Up n Atom" breakfast. "We cannot take this laboratory for granted. Were going to have to fight as hard as we fought in 1949," he said.

Idaho's Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission will be meeting all day Friday at the Idaho Falls Hilton Garden Inn. It will be taking comments from the public at 2:45 p.m. The Partnership will present its recommendations, but Allgood is eager to encourage anyone who supports new nuclear research and development at the INL to speak or submit written comments.

Shrinking federal outlays have intensified the competition for nuclear funding, said Jackie Flowers, director of Idaho Falls Power and the Partnership's board president. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently said she plans to be "as aggressive about going after DOE funding as if it were trying to land the Olympics." Haley's state is home to the Savannah River Project, and stands a very good chance of receiving $450 million from DOE later this month for a Small Modular Reactor test project.

Nevertheless, there is an infrastructure and culture in Idaho that dates back to 1949, when the Atomic Energy Commission selected the Snake River Plain as the site for its National Reactor Testing Station, Flowers said. "It doesn't make sense to rebuild infrastructure that we already have," she said. "We have expertise, infrastructure and workforce training. When it comes to SMR manufacturing, what better place than here in Idaho?"

Allgood said LINE Commission meetings earlier this year in Boise have been dominated the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho anti-nuclear group dating back to the early '90s. In preparation for the Idaho Falls meeting Friday, the Alliance held a teach-in Sept. 12 in Pocatello.

"Some key people in the area will be there, monitoring, taking notes, reporting back to us," said Liz Woodruff, the Alliance's executive director. "I don't think there will be a lot of surprises."

Woodruff said her group's main concern is the 1995 Spent Fuel Agreement reached between the state, the DOE and the U.S. Navy, which closed the Idaho to future shipments of commercial nuclear fuel for storage or reprocessing.

"We are concerned the line LINE Commission exists to change the 1995 agreement," she said. Idaho voters upheld the agreement in 1996 on two separate ballot initiatives.

"The people of this state have made it clear enough that no means no, and to ask again is coercion," said Woodruff.

As for the possibility of any new nuclear research at the INL, "The PST is always eager for something." The Alliance is favors any new R&D money going toward battery storage for energy produced by wind and solar power.