The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), located about 300 miles south of Missoula in the southeastern Idaho desert, could soon become home to weapons-grade uranium thanks to a spending bill passed in the House last week.
The $29.7 billion appropriations bill for federal energy and water programs would set aside money to upgrade buildings at INL for storing bomb-grade uranium stockpiles. The bill has the Idaho nuclear watchdog group Snake River Alliance up in arms and warning Idaho residents—as well as the state’s neighbors—of the dangers of transporting and storing the potentially lethal material.
“Our concerns range from workers’ safety concerns to terrorism concerns to transportation concerns,” says Jeremy Maxand, director of the Snake River Alliance. “The majority of people here don’t want more nuclear materials [or] weapon-related materials coming into the state.”
Maxand says Montanans should be concerned about the bill, too.
“People who live near the site and live downwind and downstream from the site need to be concerned,” he said. “I think you [Montanans] need to be concerned. The impression is that there’s only one downwind direction, but if you look at changing wind directions, weather patterns and storm systems, if there was a release or significant explosion, it’s anybody’s guess as to what direction that stuff could go. It could go straight through Idaho into Montana like it did from the nuclear testing in Nevada. At one point or another [Montana] is going to be downwind and has been downwind.”
Under the House bill, the Department of Energy would be mandated to develop a plan to transport nuclear material from several locations around the country and consolidate much of the weapons-grade material at the Idaho facility.
The bill passed the house 416–13 with Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Montana, voting in favor. The legislation must still be considered by the Senate.