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Department of Energy opens public comment window over nuclear tech testing

A photo of the sign outside the Idaho National Laboratory that also says "Changing the World's Energy Future"
MichaelVi -
Idaho National Laboratory sign. INL is a national laboratory of the United States Department of Energy - Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA - 2020

The U.S. Department of Energy has opened a short public-comment window on an experimental nuclear technology in Idaho.

The agency has released a draft environmental assessment for testing of what's known as "molten chloride fast reactor" technology at the Idaho National Laboratory. The technology is from TerraPower, a company owned by Bill Gates that is developing nuclear reactor designs.

Leigh Ford, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, is critical of the experiment, saying it won't benefit Idaho.

"First, nuclear energy is too slow and expensive to help with the climate crisis," she said. "The environmental assessment says that maybe 10 jobs will be created, but we're not sure if those people are from Idaho or not. And third, the waste created from this experiment will stay in Idaho."

Ford said the technology uses highly enriched uranium, which presents proliferation fears. She also said the assessment doesn't properly address impacts to ground and surface water in eastern Idaho. The Energy Department has said it's committed to reviving and expanding domestic nuclear energy to help the United States reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ford pointed out that the agency is giving the public a total of two weeks to react to this draft assessment.

"Fourteen days is not enough time for folks to digest this document, let alone make meaningful comments," she said. "Not to mention, we have a large rural population in Idaho that may not use email, may not have the greatest connectivity, may not be able to access this document online."

The public comment period began March 17. People have until March 31 to submit their thoughts on the assessment.