Idaho’s governor and attorney just placed a bet on Idaho’s future.

It’s fair to ask if they wagered on a 1995 agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that banned importation of nuclear waste into Idaho and required removal of waste stored at the Idaho National Laboratory to a permanent repository.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Gov. Brad Little just inked a new agreement that allows INL to import 100 pounds of spent nuclear fuel rods for research purposes.

The 1995 agreement required the DOE to remove large quantities of contaminated clothes, tools and equipment to a permanent repository in New Mexico. Removal has been underway for several years.

It also required the DOE to treat highly radioactive liquid waste stored at the INL into a more manageable form for eventual removal and storage.

DOE hasn’t done it, and is in breach of the agreement.

The new Wasden-Little agreement will allow INL to import the spent rods if it produces just one canister of dry waste from the 900,000 gallons of liquid waste stored there. It also sets out a timetable for removal of plutonium and uranium.

INL is a linchpin of the economy in eastern Idaho, but the waste there lies on top of an enormous aquifer that provides drinking water to 300,000 people and is the source of the state’s potato industry. Leakage would be disastrous.

Gov. Little called the agreement an “incentive” for the DOE. Given the federal government’s ongoing delay in removing waste, it’s more likely to be a reward for bad behavior driven by political desperation to keep the east Idaho economy humming.

It’s a roll of the dice in a state where gambling is illegal. Idaho should have continued to enforce the ban on nuclear materials, not handed its chips to the house.

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