Andrea Shipley 

Andrea Shipley, the new director of the Snake River Alliance, has her hands full these days with Idaho's nuclear situation. Shipley and the SRA are keeping tabs on current hearings regarding waste cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory, as well as the future of the proposed nuclear reactor near Bruneau.

For the last 29 years, the SRA has worked with grass-roots support to build a case for alternative power sources that are less risky for the environment. The organization works as a watchdog group, taking its cause both to the community and to national political leaders. Shipley took a coffee break with BW to speak about her new job, Idaho's energy future, and why we should all be aware of nuclear energy.

What did you do before becoming director of the SRA?

I was a contract consultant for Your Family Friends and Neighbors for about a year, and then became the part-time development director at the ACLU of Idaho. I worked there for a couple of years and then moved on to Lee Pesky Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with learning disabilities learn how to learn.

What's a typical workday like for you?

Right now, it's busy. Last week we had a really historical week with public hearings on buried [nuclear] waste and how folks are going to deal with that cleanup ... There are thousands of barrels of nuclear waste buried on top of the Snake River aquifer in unlined pits. It is a Superfund site. This effort is to begin cleaning up some of that which is in the ground and is starting to leak ... Nuclear waste affects everything in our environment, so we definitely work closely with other environmental groups as well: the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, the Northwest Energy Coalition and the Sierra Club.

How does SRA serve as an advocate?

We advocate in a variety of ways, whether it's sitting on energy committees, being an expert, creating public policy or being an advocate in the community. And we work with folks who are down-winders. Those are folks who have been affected by nuclear weapons testing in the '50s and '60s in Idaho who now suffer from cancer and other sorts of things.

In Owyhee County and other communities across the state, those are folks who never got [restitution] from the government. The thing about being a down-winder is that kind of nuclear waste and nuclear fallout gets into the ground water, and travels. So having another plant in Bruneau, Idaho, could potentially end up impacting Ada County.

What's Idaho's nuclear situation now?

We're at an energy crossroads. There's a proposed plant in Bruneau, Idaho. At the same time, we're rich in all these alternative energy sources. I think that Idaho residents really need to come to together and say what it is that we want. [We need to] take a good look at the impacts that nuclear energy and its waste have had on generations of Idahoans, and how detrimental that can be. I think everybody in Idaho is concerned about our wildlands. We want to protect that, and not just that but people's health and livelihoods. We're very interested in the economic impacts of what we can do for Idaho because of jobs that we can create through alternative energy.

Why are people looking to nuclear?

I think people are scared of global warming. I think people want a solution. I think people are ready to act on behalf of our environment and that they're ready to change the tide for our children, for our families, for our health and well-being. I think that people are well-intentioned but need all the information before we move forward as communities and states and as a country.

Are any good proposals for nuclear on the table right now?

No. As Idahoans, we are rich in alternative sources of energy, whether that be solar, wind or water. We've got it all in this state, so it would make sense to me that if we're researching things like nuclear power, then we should be pumping money and resources into researching other forms of energy as well.

What is the future of alternative energy?

I think we're in a really hopeful time. It's really exciting what our neighboring states are doing and that we can learn a lot from folks who already are making alternative energy a part of their practices. There are a lot of options for Idaho as far as how we do that, and the more we can explore and research [them], the better choices folks can make.

How is this research and exploration going to happen?

I think it is already happening with some of the [Idaho conservation groups], and looking at other countries and other states that have already put these practices into place, and then working with decision makers to begin to make those energy sources work for Idaho.

Where to you hope to take the SRA?

I hope to continue making the SRA at the forefront of ensuring sustainable energy in Idaho and safeguarding Idahoans from the impacts of nuclear power and its waste. The most important thing as a grass-roots leader is to continue to have those one-on-one conversations and meeting people where they're at, and moving however slowly or fast it takes to get people involved with the issue. And making sure that we're creating solutions that really are the solutions that Idahoans want to see.

Do you find opposition to SRA?

I think people get the wrong idea about the SRA sometimes. I think that sometimes we get pitted as a bunch of radical environmentalists, and we're not. We're here to find common ground and work on a solution. We're here to do it in a way that's going to [fulfill our mission.] We work better with people when we're sitting down and having conversations, but sometimes we have to take it to the streets and hope people listen.

What do you do personally to live more sustainably?

Everything from taking a short shower with warm water instead of hot water to recycling every week. I ride my bike to work when I can. I try to find ways to cut down on waste and eat locally grown foods.

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