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Readers Comment: Don't abandon Idaho's nuclear agreement

The 1995 Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement put an end to Idaho’s 40 years as a default nuclear waste dump. That may change soon.

Since at least 2010, nuclear proponents have pushed the governor and other receptive politicians to weaken the agreement. Increasingly, they seem to want to toss out the whole thing. That would be a mistake.

The value of the Settlement Agreement is enormous. It protects Idaho from the ever-growing piles of spent fuel at nuclear power plants across the country. It requires that the DOE move nuclear waste out of the state (and/or store it more safely) and clean up pollution threatening the Snake River Aquifer. It regulates when and for how long nuclear waste can come into the state and includes an outright ban on commercial spent fuel.

Idaho needs those protections. For decades, the Idaho National Laboratory operated without any kind of outside control. The result was that accidental and intentional activities at the Site caused serious harm to Idaho’s land and water. People who worked there were sickened and killed.

But since 1995 – through seven secretaries of energy and ever-changing contractors, plans, and promises – the Settlement Agreement has provided Idaho accountability and responsiveness from the DOE.

The Settlement Agreement doesn’t make the waste at INL any less dangerous or difficult to manage. INL missed the 2012 deadline for getting liquid high-level waste out of buried tanks because the facility to do so hasn’t worked. The deadline to ship plutonium-contaminated weapons waste will be missed because of accidents at WIPP in New Mexico. More than 3,700 cubic meters of waste is ready for shipment to a facility that will take a long time to accept that much.

The Settlement Agreement does allow nuclear waste to come from other places to be treated here. But it doesn’t allow that waste to accumulate. Waste must be treated within six months and shipped back out within six months so that Idaho does not become a default dump again.

Idaho should never allow INL to become a permanent transit facility for nuclear waste simply because there is nowhere else to send it. But the pressure to do just that is growing. DOE’s Hanford facility in Washington State has 27,000 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste that needs treatment before it can go to WIPP.

Some in eastern Idaho want the Hanford waste to come to Idaho, sit here until it’s treated and then sit here again for the years it would take to get it to WIPP. A lot can go wrong in that scenario.

Many INL supporters in eastern Idaho seem to regard the 1995 Settlement Agreement as a burden if not a bludgeon. They seem to think the Site is being unfairly punished if additional nuclear material isn’t allowed into the state.

It’s more accurate to see the Settlement Agreement as a shield and a tool the State can use to help balance and regulate the risk INL will always pose. The 1995 Settlement Agreement helps protect us all.

Other View: There's a limit to what nationalism can do

American politics has a new organizing principle, according to a theory that has been making the rounds. Reaganism is dead. Our central debate no longer concerns big vs. small government, or traditionalism vs. progressivism on morals. Instead it pits nationalism against globalism.

R. R. Reno, the editor of the religious-conservative journal First Things, writes that President Donald Trump recognizes “the new schism in American life,” which “is about immigration, free trade and the broad and deep impacts of globalization on America’s economy and culture.” Reno is writing from a position of broad sympathy with Trump’s nationalism, but critics of that nationalism have argued similarly. David Brooks wrote last year that big vs. small government would give way to open vs. closed society.

Trump’s victory in November makes Reno’s argument plausible, as do Brexit and the rise of nationalists in France and Hungary. Perhaps the argument is even true. I agree with much of what Reno has to say about the fraying bonds of national unity and the need for political leaders to attend to them. Like Reno, I have written in defense of a moderate form of nationalism.

But I am skeptical that nationalism vs. globalism will be the axis on which our political life will turn from now on, let alone that (as Reno suggests) nationalism will carry all before it because it’s what Americans want.

For one thing, it’s not clear that voters consider this debate central to their or our country’s fate. When Gallup asks Americans what they consider the most important problem for the nation, 8 percent say immigration. Foreign trade and the trade deficit get an asterisk, meaning that less than 1 percent of Americans volunteer those answers. By contrast, roughly 24 percent of Americans list economic problems without mentioning any tie-in to globalization.

An anti-globalist might reply that trade and immigration lurk behind the problems that worry Americans even if they do not realize it, and so politics will have to put these issues at the forefront. But that’s not right either. Low-skilled immigration may pull down the wages of native-born high-school dropouts. That possibility should certainly affect our immigration policy. But 88 percent of Americans have completed high school. The case that immigration is hurting them economically is non-existent. Controlling immigration is not vital to our economic future.

Neither is curtailing trade. A recent study strengthened the case that trade with China has hurt some communities. But even that study conceded that a large majority of job losses in manufacturing between 1991 and 2007 had nothing to do with trade — and it also said that the negative impact on manufacturing jobs was already over.

If elite groups have strong and polarized views about nationalism and globalism, perhaps this divide will dominate political life even if most voters care less. But there aren’t enough consistent and passionate nationalists to sustain their side of the debate. Reno isn’t even one himself: He favors “America’s role as leader of the international order” and opposes “attacking global trade.”

Another reason nationalism might not form our main political dividing line: Unlike the debate over the size of government, it doesn’t do much to inform our policy debates. There’s no nationalist prescription for health policy or tax reform, to pick two topics that actually are dominating our political debate — and dominating it during the first months of a nationalist administration. Whether one prefers or distrusts markets and federalism, on the other hand, has obvious implications for both issues.

Trump may succeed in making the Republican Party more nationalist. His nationalism seems to have played a role in drawing him the support of many people who had not previously voted for Republican candidates, while repelling some people who had. But most Republicans didn’t run on Trumpian nationalist themes. They ran as Reaganites, more or less, and a lot of them won more votes in their districts and states than he did.

That doesn’t mean nationalism can be ignored. It is an important conservative theme, and nationalists are an important part of the conservative coalition. But there’s a limit to what nationalism can do, and one thing it can’t do is bear all the weight of American politics.

Letter: What to do on North Korea?

Recently Russia agreed that it would be a good idea if America and Russia teamed up to deal with North Korea, but with this in mind you may be thinking this is great I can't wait to see peace restored, but you would be wrong. I only say this because you can send in the military and kill them but this is a man who would feed his own son to his science advisers. So, what makes you think he wouldn't put his own people in front of his armies as canon fodder and if he doesn't do that they are already brainwashed to think he is a god. So, if America does go in there guns a blazing it will result in almost genocidal level of death. Now this isn't to say we can't do anything, try other tactics first like assassination before preforming a major act of war and death that will devastate the region.

Justin Mattson

Twin Falls

Krauthammer: Trump: 'normalized' but still scary

WASHINGTON — With near unanimity, my never-Trump friends confess a sense of relief. It could have been worse. They thought it would be worse. A deep apprehension still endures but the international order remains intact, the republic still stands, and no “enemy of the people” has (yet) been arrested.

Admittedly, this is a low bar. And this is not to deny the insanity, incoherence and sheer weirdness emanating daily from the White House, with which we’ve all come up with our own coping technique. Here’s mine: I simply view President Trump as the Wizard of Oz.

Loud and bombastic. A charlatan. Nothing behind the screen — other than the institutional chaos that defines his White House and the psychic chaos that governs his ever-changing mind. What to do? Ignore what’s behind the curtain. Deal with what comes out in front: the policy, the pronouncements, the actions.

And so far they hang together enough — Neil Gorsuch, Keystone XL, NATO reassurances, Syria strike, Cabinet appointments — that one can begin to talk plausibly about the normalization of this presidency.

Hence the relief. But there are limitations to the Wizard of Oz approach. Some things do extrude from behind the curtain that are hard to ignore. And here I am not counting the gratuitous idiocies that can, despite their entertainment value, be safely ignored — for example, Trump’s puzzlement as to why the Civil War was not avoided and how Andrew Jackson, who’d been dead 16 years, was so upset by its outbreak.

These are embarrassments, but they don’t materially affect the course of his presidency or of the country. Some weirdnesses, however, do.

Such as, Trump’s late-April pronouncements on South Korea. Being less entertaining, they were vastly underreported. Here’s the context:

Trump is orchestrating a worldwide campaign to pressure North Korea on its nukes and missiles. He dispatches (finally) the USS Carl Vinson strike group to Korean waters and raises the possibility of a “major, major conflict” with Pyongyang. Meanwhile, we are working furiously to complete a THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea to intercept North Korean rockets.

At which point, out of the blue, Trump tells Reuters that Seoul will have to pay for the THAAD system. And by the way, that 5-year-old U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement is a disaster and needs to be torn up.

Now, South Korea is in the middle of a highly charged presidential campaign. The pro-American president was recently impeached and is now under indictment. The opposition party is ahead. It is wary of the U.S., accommodating to North Korea and highly negative about installing that THAAD system on its soil.

We had agreed with Seoul that they would provide the land and the infrastructure, and we would pay the $1 billion cost. Without warning, Trump reneges on the deal, saying South Korea will have to foot the bill. This stirs anti-American feeling and gives opposition candidate Moon Jae-in the perfect campaign issue.

What is it with this president insisting that other people pay for things we want? And for what? In a $4 trillion budget, $1 billion is a rounding error.

So self-defeating was the idea that within three days, national security adviser H.R. McMaster had to walk it all back, assuring the South Koreans that we would indeed honor our agreement and send no $1 billion invoice.

But the damage was done. Moon’s campaign feasted. The pro-American party was thrown on its heels. And the very future of THAAD — and a continued united front against Pyongyang under a likely Moon administration — is in doubt.

As for the trade deal, the installation of THAAD has so angered China that it has already initiated an economic squeeze on South Korea. To which Trump would add a trade rupture with the United States.

The South Korean blunder reinforces lingering fears about Trump. Especially because it was an unforced error. What happens in an externally caused crisis? Then, there is no hiding, no guardrails, no cushioning. It’s the wisdom and understanding of one man versus whatever the world has thrown up against us. However normalized this presidency may be day to day, in such a moment all bets are off.

What happens when the red phone rings at 3 in the morning?

I’d say: Let it ring. Let the wizard sleep. Forward the call to Defense Secretary Mattis.