(Boise, Idaho) – Governor Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that provides a path to resolve the department’s breaches of the state’s 1995 Settlement Agreement and re-commence research on commercial spent nuclear fuel at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
Despite success on the part of the Department of Energy to achieve significant cleanup milestones since 1995, breaches started in 2012 when the department failed to meet a commitment for treating sodium bearing liquid high level waste at INL. The department later fell behind on shipments of transuranic waste from INL to its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and ultimately missed a 2018 deadline for all such waste to be out of Idaho. As a result of these breaches, the State of Idaho invoked its remedy laid out in the 1995 agreement and blocked shipments of spent nuclear fuel to INL, including small amounts of commercial power spent nuclear fuel intended for research purposes.
Department of Energy officials signed the new agreement earlier this week, and Little and Wasden signed it on November 6. It was carefully and intensely negotiated during most of this year by the Governor and Attorney General and their staff members, along with significant assistance from Congressman Mike Simpson, U.S. Senator Jim Risch, and U.S. Senator Mike Crapo.
The agreement provides a pathway to cure the Department of Energy’s breaches by securing clean-up related stipulations that Wasden began pursuing nearly five years ago when the Department of Energy requested to bring commercial research fuel to Idaho, despite being in breach of the 1995 agreement.
Under the framework, INL is granted a one-time waiver to receive 25 commercial power spent nuclear fuel rods – approximately 100 pounds of heavy metal – from the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois. Before this can occur, however, the Department of Energy must begin successfully treating sodium bearing liquid high level waste at INL by turning it into a safer dry, solid state. Currently, the liquid waste sits in tanks directly above the Snake River Aquifer, while the Department of Energy works to resolve operational problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit.
The Department of Energy has also pledged to allocate at least 55 percent of all future transuranic waste shipments to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility to shipments originating at INL, and to give Idaho priority when additional shipments become available. This allocation will remain in place until all transuranic waste has been shipped out of Idaho. To date, the Department of Energy has shipped more than 31,500 cubic meters of transuranic waste out of Idaho to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
In exchange for the one-time shipment, the Department of Energy also agreed to remove at least 300 pounds of special nuclear material from Idaho by the end of 2021, and agreed to treat at least 165 pounds of Sodium Bonded EBR II Driver Fuel Pins each year until all pins have been treated – no later than the end of 2028.
A second part of the agreement provides that once the Department of Energy has produced 100 canisters of the dry, treated sodium-bearing high level waste, INL may receive additional research quantities of spent nuclear fuel, per a 2011 Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Energy and the State of Idaho. This can only occur, though, if the high-level waste treatment process is ongoing and the Department of Energy is not in breach of any terms of the 1995 Settlement Agreement.
The agreement only allows commercial spent nuclear fuel to be sent to INL in research quantities and does not allow for the Department of Energy to bring any other type of fuel to Idaho for storage purposes. Any commercial research fuel brought to INL is subject to language in the original 1995 agreement that requires all Department of Energy spent nuclear fuel to be shipped out of Idaho by 2035. The cap on all Department of Energy nuclear waste in Idaho established in the 1995 Settlement Agreement also remains in place.
“This agreement is a significant development in our ongoing efforts to remove legacy nuclear waste from our state while also supporting the essential research mission of INL as the lead national laboratory for nuclear energy research,” Governor Little said. “I want to commend Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Senator Mike Crapo, Senator Jim Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson, Congressman Russ Fulcher, and everyone else who played a role in helping reach this agreement. I also want to recognize the role that former Governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus played in securing Idaho’s one-of-a-kind agreement back in the 1990s.”
“Secretary Rick Perry and the Department of Energy also deserve credit for working with the State of Idaho in good faith to come to this agreement, and for the cleanup successes that have been achieved,” Governor Little added. “Idaho is safer and cleaner because of the 1995 Settlement Agreement, and the agreement we executed this week ensures those successes will continue and that the INL will continue to lead the nation and world in energy research and innovation.”
“This agreement is good for the State of Idaho,” Attorney General Wasden said. “It ensures the Department of Energy’s commitment to remove nuclear waste from INL while also incentivizing the department to turn the most dangerous liquid waste into a much safer and more manageable solid. As those who have been familiar with my stance on this issue over the years know, nothing is more important than treating that liquid waste and protecting our precious aquifer.”
“I would like to thank Governor Little and his staff for their support through this process,” Wasden added. “They’ve been diligent in their work with Idaho’s Congressional delegation and the Department of Energy to get this agreement across the finish line.”