Jackson Hole Guide

Wednesday, Aug. 18, 1999
News from Jackson Hole, WY
Thomas Dewell, editor

Spence wants $1 million to fight nukes

Harrison Ford and wife Melissa pledge $50,000 to fight nuclear incinerator.

By Josh Long
Jackson Hole Guide

Gerry Spence, who officially declared war on the Department of Energy Tuesday night, asked Jackson Hole residents for a high-powered artillery weapon to kill a proposed nuclear incinerator: $1 million.

Moreover, more than 800 residents at Walk Festival Hall -- going nuts in what one staunch opponent called a "religious revival" -- pledged some $500,000 to sue government agencies to stop the proposed incineration in Idaho.

"The question I have, is there a million dollars here?" asked Spence before the packed audience broke out in laughter.

Movie star Harrison Ford and his wife Melissa pledged $50,000 and an anonymous donor pledged another $50,000 -- the two largest donations, Spence said in his introduction.

In the ensuing minutes, dozens of residents stood up on the record, pledging anywhere from $43,000 to $98. One woman, from Illinois, vowed $500. Most people pledged money in the name of their children and grandchildren.

The original purpose of the gathering was to inform people about the risks of a proposed incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab, offer alternatives to incineration, and discuss legal options. The incinerator is proposed to begin operating in 2003.

The gathering was clearly an anti-nuke convention, although one man, a former INEEL worker, stood up during the pledges, and said matter-of-factly, "I'm John Tanner and IÕm donating my time and effort to oppose this bullshit!"

Spence responded: "Every audience needs an idiot."

Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a recently-formed non-profit group, organized the meeting which brought together experts in the nuclear field.

Residents had three major concerns: the hazards of the nuclear incinerator; the alternatives; and what the community can do to stop incineration.

Residents maintain Jackson Hole is downwind from the incinerator, and prevailing winds will carry hazardous particles here.

Said meteorologist Jim Woodmencey, quoting Bob Dylan at the meeting: "You donÕt need to be a weather man to know which way the wind blows."

Experts said the proposed incineration of 65,000 cubic meters of nuclear and hazardous waste poses grave environmental hazards. For instance, the tiniest particles of radioisotopes -- if released into the environment -- can get into lungs and cause cancer, said Paul Connett, professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University.

What's more, Connett said, the proposed burning of PCBs -- highly toxic carcinogens -- can create more toxic elements such as dioxins, which is the most potent promoter of cancer.

Energy officials have maintained that the proposed incinerator will contain 99.99 percent of emissions and release far less than one percent of the natural radioactivity a human receives a year.

Connett, meanwhile, advocated alternative means of incineration, such as a closed system that would not emit fumes into the environment at all. He said the proposed incinerator will threaten businesses, property values and children.

"Some of (the emissions) will end up in the lungs of your children and your grandchildren," he said.

One expert, who criticized the Department of EnergyÕs past records as incomplete in the way they calculated doses of radioactivity in workersÕ bodies, said incineration is not required -- as reportedly stated in the DOE's Environmental Impact Statement -- when other alternative technologies exist.

"You can apply for an exception when you know there is an alternative technology," said Arjun Makhijani, nuclear waste management expert and project scientist for the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

Energy officials have said incineration is necessary to meet some of the requirements at the storage facility in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, cynics continue to question the credibility of BNFL, the organization awarded the contract to treat the waste in Idaho. The companyÕs parent is alleged to have caused environmental hazards, such as contaminating the Irish Sea.

During the meeting, many business owners challenged each other to raise funds for the long campaign against the nuclear incinerator.

Spence committed himself to rounding up the most competent team of lawyers to enter the lawsuit, but emphasized that the community needs to band together for the long-haul and gather up plenty of weapons. He said a million dollars is only the start of what will be required to fight the proposal.

"This war has to cover the whole horizon," Spence said.