Last week the Potato Commission sent a box of potatoes to the House and Senate for each of us. A Technical training center from Cassia County gave us a beautiful laser- and router-carved wooden paper weight with our names carved into the side and an Idaho Quarter set in the top. At a lunch for the anniversary of the Idaho National Lab we were given a thumb drive and sticky note holder along with a mini nuclear waste barrel that functions as a squishy stress reliever/forearm exerciser.
We get gifts as legislators. I usually feel funny enough about them or the expectation of a promise or vote that I give them away to interns or statehouse staff. We did vote last week to pass a memorial commending the Idaho National Lab on its anniversary. I voted for it because it seemed to reflect the lab in a genuine rather than a wishful way. It was a good memorial. I'd vote for it even if I'd not been offered the nuclear waste barrel/stress reliever/forearm exerciser gift.
The anniversary lunch where we got the Lab's gifts was a blur of slides and very brief admirals and contractors speaking in front of a big back curtain. Normally these folks at the INL focus public presentations on the great promise of Nuclear Power and their mission to build the next generation of nuclear power plants. Anymore they seem to go to great lengths to avoid talking about all the radioactive waste buried and stored out there in the desert of South Eastern Idaho.
But at lunch, in celebrating that nuclear reactor technology was first tested and developed here in Idaho, celebrating our role in nuclear weapons production and nuclear waste storage, the lab did focus on waste and on the thousands of people who have labored for decades under often dangerous conditions to try and clean up what is one of the largest nuclear waste dumps in the nation.
I've met many people who worked out there at "the site" over the years. Most recently a fire fighter who I worry about after having heard what he has breathed and how he no longer fears that odd feeling of heat and gamma rays radiating off of spent fuel and high level waste.
I will be a
big proponent of nuclear power when we do finally solve the issue of
waste. We will need to figure out how to neutralize it, not just
recycle part of it. We can't keep leaving the most highly radioactive
remains to burn somewhere in a mountain or building or pool of water
for decades, centuries or millennia. I hope our government continues to
invest money in solving the puzzle of how to render radioactive
materials harmless. I even hope our lab gets that job and does it well.
But to talk of building new nuclear power plants before that task is done is beyond my comprehension. To talk about how this energy is clean or carbon free when in truth it is mined, refined, processed, transported, reprocessed, stored, cooled, monitored, repackaged and labored-over using decades of fossil fuels, that makes no sense. We still have no idea what to do besides piling more radioactive waste next to every nuclear power plant we build in every city or town from New York to California. To revive the industry means billion in profits for a few and a gift of consequences for the rest of us.
Nuclear waste is a gift our state still keeps getting. Most Idahoans don't know it but the nuclear navy's nuclear submarines still send all their radioactive "spent fuel" waste here to Idaho. Dangerous materials so radioactively hot that they are literally deadly to behold. Three Mile Island has waste buried out there in the soil over our aquifer. Decades of taking other state's nuclear weapons waste have left the soil so hot in places that even now it catches on fire sometimes. Workers in big tents use robots and cranes to dig it up out of the soil and put it in barrels to become New Mexico's problem.
If we want more gifts, we will believe the industry when they promise us it is a clean and safe form of energy now. They say they have solved the issue of the waste by recycling part of it. But ask them where it all goes. All of it. Ask what precisely we are left with afterward and is this something Idaho wants or is it something we're hoping someday to pass guiltily on to some other state or community with our own hollow promises and wishful thinking.
That's another gift I will decline. I will leave that one, like I left the mini squishy stress reliever/nuclear waste barrel on the INL luncheon table.