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Lawmakers right to hold off on nuclear waste bill

Lawmakers right to hold off on nuclear waste bill https://www.powelltribune.com/stories/lawmakers-right-to-hold-off-on-nuclear-waste-bill,22189, November 7, 2019 , By CJ Baker

Offer people enough money and they’ll put up with quite a bit.

So if the State of Wyoming was offered, say, billions of dollars a year, you might find some folks willing to hold their nose and let the federal government store a bit of nuclear waste in an isolated corner of the state.

But with the feds apparently offering relative peanuts to stash their waste in Wyoming, we’re pleased that state lawmakers are backing off the idea.

On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee decided not to sponsor a bill that would have called on the governor’s office to try negotiating a nuclear waste deal with the feds.

Lawmakers started exploring the idea of temporarily storing spent nuclear fuel rods back in July. Things got off on the wrong foot right away, as the Joint Management Council opted to look into the concept using an unannounced vote held by email; the discussion only became public when WyoFile, a nonprofit news service, learned of and wrote about it.

We wrote in this space back in July that, while the lack of transparency was frustrating, the idea was worth exploring. However, the price has to be right. State Sen. Jim Anderson, a Republican from Casper, told WyoFile in July that Wyoming could receive as much as $1 billion a year for storing the country’s nuclear waste. That could go a long way toward relieving some of Wyoming’s budget woes.

But when the Spent Fuel Rods Subcommittee actually heard testimony on the subject in September, federal officials suggested the state might only receive $10 million a year — and a chunk of that would go to local governments, according to reporting by the Casper Star-Tribune.

Further, it was suggested that Wyoming might have a fight on its hands to even get that funding, possibly needing Congress to pass legislation and potentially facing multiple lawsuits.

On top of that, the idea drew nearly unanimous opposition from dozens of members of the public who weighed in at the meeting and via online comments.

“Keep that crap out of my state,” was one representative remark from a Casper resident.

While we believe that nuclear waste could be safely transported to and stored in Wyoming, it’s almost certain that, regardless of whatever precautions are taken and assurances given, many residents will remain wary and fearful of the idea. That means accepting spent fuel rods at a new facility here would require ramrodding legislation through the Wyoming Legislature and Congress over the top of some staunch opposition.

There’s also little question that the move would create some bad PR for Wyoming —  the “toxic waste dump” jokes basically write themselves — which is a concern for a state that relies on tourism.

All of that is to say that we were a bit dumbfounded to hear that going to all that trouble would net a mere pittance in revenue.

In an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune last month, Sen. Anderson acknowledged the U.S. Department of Energy hasn’t offered enough cash.

“… if they stick to that $10 million figure, we’re not even going to pursue it,” he said.

However, Anderson suggested to the Star-Tribune that the state could negotiate a much better rate that would get closer to the $1 billion mark.

Under the legislation drafted by the Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee, Gov. Mark Gordon would have been called upon to strike a deal with the Department of Energy. But the committee announced Tuesday that they wouldn’t sponsor the bill, the Star-Tribune reported, with Anderson saying that the governor could open negotiations on his own.

However, a spokesman for Gordon told the Star-Tribune that the governor “remains uncertain that this proposal is the best way to generate revenue for the state.” And the governor told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle last week that, while open to hearing more about nuclear waste storage, “I don’t think it’s the best industry for Wyoming.”

We share Gov. Gordon’s uncertainty and don’t see any reason to move forward at this time — particularly because it seems awfully unrealistic to think the Department of Energy will agree to pay 100 times its initial offer. And when it comes to stashing nuclear waste in the ground, we can’t afford to take a pie-in-the-sky approach.

November 9, 2019 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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