Uranium, Toxic Sand and Blackwater

by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & o Idahoans prefer their toxic waste locally produced, or would they rather have the imported stuff? The question is moot because, like it or not, they're getting both. Areva, a French energy conglomerate, has selected Idaho Falls for the site of a new uranium enrichment plant. And because there's no place in the Kuwaiti desert for contaminated sand, a shipment is being brought in from there to be dumped at the U.S. Ecology site in Grandview.

The only thing that could sweeten a deal like that would be a training camp in North Idaho set up by Blackwater Worldwide -- maybe not toxic, but an outfit that people in other states have refused to have in their back yard. The Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Academy has approached the company about building and maintaining a north academy to train its officers.

Out with the Aryans, in with Blackwater and radioactive waste: What does all this news say about the Gem State?

"The laws here definitely have something to do with it," says Barry Rosenberg, director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, a conservation group in North Idaho. "Obviously, Idaho's environmental laws are more lax than in many of the neighboring states," he says, adding that enforcement of those laws is hit and miss. He cautions against generalizing about the state's fast-growing population, however. He thinks that while Idaho appeals to a conservative business element because of its lax environmental and land use laws, it also draws its share of liberal-minded folks "who are looking for a place that hasn't been Tahoe-ized, overrun and used up."

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & am Shiver, general manager of Areva's uranium enrichment program, was quoted on Northwest Public Radio as saying that "a real open-to-business attitude" was key to the company's choosing Idaho.

Speaking for the office of Governor Butch Otter, Jon Hanian agrees that the business end of the deal is good for Idaho, citing 1,000 jobs created in the construction phase and about 250 permanent jobs that pay an average of $65,000 per year. "We believe it's going to help spur the economy in a time when the rest of the country is struggling," he says. Acknowledging that there are varying opinions on nuclear power, he says, "This governor has felt that nuclear power needs to be one of the tools in our energy portfolio." He says the governor is committed to other forms of power generation also, but that there are limits to what solar, biomass and hydro options can produce. "Unfortunately, there is not a limit on the demand for energy," he says. So the nuclear option is still on the table.

Predictably, the greens aren't sold on the business plan.

"If Idahoans are upset about the contaminated sand shipment from Kuwait, they will be more alarmed to learn about the waste Areva plans to produce from its enrichment plant," says Andrea Shipley of the Snake River Alliance, an environmental watchdog group. "The uranium enrichment process is dangerous and dirty," she says, citing the extreme toxicity and volatility of uranium hexafluoride in particular. "Cloaking nuclear waste as economic development is really short-sighted and not something that will leave a healthy and clean legacy in Idaho."

The shipment of mildly toxic soil from Kuwait contaminated by a fire involving depleted uranium armor-piercing shells at a U.S. Army camp in 1991 is another deal dividing people over what kind of green matters most. After all, money is green, too: The Idaho Statesman reported that the parent company of the hazardous materials dump in Grandview raked in more than $45 million in profit in 2007, while it took in 800,000 tons of government and industrial waste from 37 states.

The toxic dump is the largest employer and property tax payer in Owyhee County, Idaho. It's one of 18 commercial sites in the nation authorized to bury radioactive and other hazardous materials. Considering the million tons of radioactive waste it has received from the federal government over the past five years, the 6,700 tons of Kuwaiti sand is a mere mole hill.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & nd on the subject of fresh arrivals to the Gem State, it looks as if Blackwater Worldwide -- a private paramilitary training and security contractor -- might be moving in to establish a second training academy for the state's various law enforcement officers.

The proposed arrangement, according to Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell, is simply that Blackwater build and maintain a training complex that the Idaho POST would lease.

Public sentiment toward Blackwater has been sullied by numerous controversial shooting incidents in Iraq and no-bid contracts awarded to the company by the federal government, among other issues. The company was successfully blocked by organized members of the Potrero community in San Diego, Calif., as it prepared to locate a training facility there.

"Blackwater enjoys less than a stellar reputation," Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson says, "and credibility is very important to me and my officers." He says that he sees no benefit from partnering with a private firm for officer training instead of North Idaho College -- his preferred plan.

"What's the community going to think if the academy north is on a Blackwater compound? It's a perception I don't want to deal with," Watson says.


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