14 October 2005
Governor opposes nuke plan
Associated Press
Wyoming Billings Gazette


Gov. Dave Freudenthal is opposing plans to make plutonium-238 at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho, about 100 miles west of Jackson Hole and Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to produce 11 pounds of plutonium-238 a year over 35 years for "space batteries" that could power satellites and space probes.

Such batteries are useful when spacecraft travel too far from the sun to use solar energy effectively. But plutonium-238 is so toxic that ingesting even a speck could be deadly.

Freudenthal said Thursday that the potential risks outweighed the benefits. "My concerns revolve around the fact that the DOE wants to use old equipment in a potentially dangerous place to produce an extremely toxic substance," he said in a prepared statement.

Freudenthal was also concerned that the federal government had no specific plans for storing radioactive waste produced in the process.

He said that after reviewing a draft environmental study of the $300 million proposal, he agreed with Wyoming residents who have written him with concerns.

Brad Bugger, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, said that because plans are still being developed, Freudenthal's concerns were premature. "Because the plutonium that would be produced in this project would be used for national security purposes, we believe it would be eligible for disposal outside the state of Idaho," he said.

He also said the reactor that will be used is safe. "We update the internals of the reactor every eight to 10 years. The internals are the areas that are exposed to the most radiation," he said.

And while Freudenthal was concerned that the reactor is near a seismically active area, Bugger said the risk of a major earthquake at the lab is slight.

It's not the first time the 890-square-mile laboratory complex has worried Wyoming residents. In 2000, Jackson attorney Gerry Spence led a successful $1 billion lawsuit to close a nuclear waste incinerator at the facility.

Tom Patricelli, president of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, said his organization was prepared to go to court again if its concerns aren't met. He said the reactor will be 50 years old when it is used for the project and doesn't have a concrete containment dome like commercial reactors.

"I'm confident that they will see the serious dangers associated with this project and will work to see that this project that could so seriously threaten the citizens and natural treasures of Wyoming will be stopped," he said.

Some Idaho residents have also opposed the proposal. Idaho officials have said they will support the project but want plans for independent monitoring and for disposal of the waste elsewhere.


Global Network