Source: Associated Press | Keith Ridler

BOISE, Idaho — Former Idaho Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus filed a notice Thursday of their intent to sue the federal government over a proposal to ship spent commercial nuclear fuel rods to Idaho. The notice was sent to the U.S. Department of Energy and involves shipments scheduled to arrive in June and December at Idaho National Laboratory.

Batt, a Republican, and Andrus, a Democrat, both fought commercial nuclear waste shipments during their terms. The efforts culminated with a 1995 agreement, often called the Batt Agreement, that bans commercial nuclear waste shipments and requires cleanup of nuclear waste stored at the laboratory.

The governors contend in their notice that the Department of Energy would be violating federal environmental laws by shipping the waste to Idaho.

“The destruction, the waiver, the attempted repeal of the 1995 Batt Agreement, in my opinion, is exactly an example of that,” Andrus said at a news conference.

In a January letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agreed to a waiver of the 1995 agreement that would allow 50 spent commercial nuclear fuel rods into Idaho for research.

Otter noted the deal would bring as much as $20 million a year for the next five years for the eastern Idaho nuclear facility.

“The allegation that I am doing anything less than protecting Idaho under the terms of the 1995 settlement agreement is simply wrong,” Otter said in a statement Thursday. “No governor has shipped more waste out of the state than me. It is clear the former governors see the Lab as a liability, while I see its possibilities.”

Andrus and Batt have said the $20 million is a fraction compared to what the state could lose economically if the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer beneath the nuclear facility is contaminated. Among other things, they said potato growers in the region would be out of business because no one would want to buy potentially radioactive potatoes.

Batt, who also took part in the Thursday news conference, said the 50 spent fuel rods were just the beginning.

“It’s clear we’re talking about substantial amounts of spent commercial nuclear waste,” he said.

Laird Lucas, director of litigation for Advocates of the West, is doing the legal work for the two former governors. He said a federal lawsuit could be filed as soon as April if the Department of Energy doesn’t respond to the governors’ request for a review of the shipments under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Wasden, shortly after the deal became public in January, said the state’s motivation was to provide an incentive for the Department of Energy to abide by the 1995 agreement and remove nuclear waste from the facility, which was then at a standstill due to two long-standing violations.

That changed on Thursday at about the same time the former governors were holding their news conference. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality announced it had reached an agreement with the Department of Energy to resolve one of the violations involving 900,000 gallons of liquid waste.

That deal sets a timeline for the federal agency to turn the liquid waste into a solid form, with the agency permanently removing tanks holding that waste from service no later than the end of 2018.

It was not clear if that meets the requirements Otter and Wasden set for the waiver involving the 1995 agreement.

A treatment facility intended to convert the liquid waste into solid form has been built, but it’s had serious setbacks. The agreement announced Thursday contains a penalty of $2 million for the Energy Department if that treatment facility is unable to do the job.

The facility is specifically mentioned in another letter Wasden wrote to Moniz, this one dated Feb. 27, that states Idaho won’t accept commercial spent fuel rods “until such time as the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit is operational.”

Wasden said he had been told by Department of Energy officials that the plant likely wouldn’t start processing the nuclear waste until the spring of 2016.