BOISE — Idaho’s governor and attorney general announced a new deal with the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday addressing the handling of spent nuclear fuel generated during the Advanced Test Reactor’s operations.
The reactor, which is located at DOE’s desert site west of Idaho Falls, tests nuclear fuel for military, university, industry and federal government customers, and to power U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers, said Brian Wonderlich, general counsel for Gov. Brad Little. This new agreement, Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said in a news release, resolves uncertainty about the 1995 Settlement Agreement between the state and federal government regulating how nuclear fuel disposal applies to its operations and “provides the state with assurance that the ATR facility will not keep nuclear materials in wet storage longer than necessary.”
This comes three months after the state and federal government announced some other changes to the settlement agreement that will let Idaho National Laboratory bring in small quantities of spent nuclear fuel for research if the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit can start processing the liquid waste that has been in limbo there for years.
“I’m pleased with this agreement because it provides certainty to our state regarding how the Department of Energy will manage this particular spent nuclear fuel while also creating an ongoing system of accountability,” Wasden said in a statement. “It’s a win-win because it also provides the department with the certainty to continue operating this important research facility at INL.”
Under the original settlement agreement, negotiation of which started during the governorship of Cecil Andrus and was signed when Phil Batt was governor, spent nuclear fuel in wet storage was supposed to be removed from Idaho by Dec. 31, 2023. However, ATR uses an indoor canal to cool fuel between tests.
The new agreement, which was signed Tuesday, says DOE can keep spent nuclear fuel for cooling at ATR. Fuel generated there can be kept in the canal for up to six years before being put in dry storage, excluding test specimen material. After Jan. 1, 2035, spent fuel, again excluding test specimen material, must be removed from the state within a year of being placed in dry storage. DOE is also required to provide yearly notifications to the state about its activity there, perform technical assessments on the canal and, if the canal’s integrity is compromised, notify the state and take safety measures. The agreement says, if DOE doesn’t follow the rules, the state will consider the fuel at ATR to be in wet storage in violation of the 1995 agreement and the agreement could be voided.
“The agreement we just signed ensures the cutting-edge nuclear energy research at the ATR will continue, and will be done so safely,” Little said. “I am extremely pleased with the improved relationship between our state and the U.S. Department of Energy, and I want to thank Attorney General Wasden as well as (DOE) Secretary (Dan) Brouillette and the leadership at INL for their commitment to working collaboratively to build a safe, strong, clean and vibrant future for INL.”
This week has been a busy one for INL at the Capitol, with lab Director Mark Peters scheduled to give a presentation to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday and the state’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission scheduled to meet most of the day Thursday. On Tuesday, Wonderlich and Deputy Attorney General Darrell Early gave a presentation to the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, updating lawmakers on last year’s addendum to the settlement agreement as well as the new ATR agreement.
Wonderlich and Early went over the history of last year’s agreement which, the parties hope, will resolve almost a decade of impasse over DOE missing cleanup deadlines and allow some research at INL that had been delayed to resume by letting the lab bring in fuel. Tuesday’s agreement, which Wonderlich said stemmed from the previous negotiations that led to November’s deal, demonstrates a strengthened relationship of trust between the state and DOE, which he said is a goal of Little’s.
Reps. Barbara Ehardt and Wendy Horman, both of whom represent Idaho Falls-area districts, praised the agreements.
“It’s greatly appreciated by the people I represent,” Horman said.