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New agreement allows spent fuel research at INL

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Governor Brad Little have signed a new agreement outlining how the federal agency will resolve breaches of the 1995 Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Settlement Agreement.  It also provides a path forward to resume research on commercial spent nuclear fuel at INL. 

The agreement only allows commercial spent nuclear fuel to be sent to INL in research quantities.  It does not allow DOE to bring any other type of fuel to Idaho for storage purposes.  Any commercial fuel brought to INL is subject to the original agreement, which requires all spent nuclear fuel to be shipped out of Idaho by 2035. The cap on all DOE nuclear waste in Idaho under the 1995 agreement remains in place.

According to the Governor's office, breaches of 1995 agreement began in 2012 when DOE failed to meet a commitment for treating sodium bearing liquid high level waste at INL.  DOE then fell behind on shipments of transuranic waste from INL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. As a result, it ultimately missed a 2018 deadline for moving all such waste out of the state.

The state of Idaho invoked its end of the 1995 agreement and blocked further shipments of spent nuclear fuel to INL.  That included small amounts of commercial spent nuclear fuel the DOE wanted to use for research purposes.

Under the new framework, INL will be given a one-time waiver to receive 25 commercial power spent nuclear fuel rods from the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois.   Before that 100 pounds of heavy metal comes, though, DOE must begin treating sodium bearing liquid high level waste at INL by turning it into a safer, dry, solid state. Right now, that material is sitting in tanks directly above the Snake River Aquifer.  Work to treat it has been stalled by problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Plant. 

"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."

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.

Idaho House Democratic Leader, Representative Mat Erpelding of Boise expressed some concern with the agreement.   In a statement, he said:

"I applaud Governor Little and Attorney General Wasden for balancing the needs of Idaho's economy while doing everything they can to enforce the 1995 Nuclear Agreement and hold the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) accountable for illegal dumping in Idaho." Rep. Erpelding said. "At the same time, the U.S. Department of Energy has failed to meet deadlines and have been unable to secure a permanent storage facility for high-level nuclear waste for decades. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) facility is not capable of receiving the transuranic nuclear waste spelled out in the 1995 Nuclear Agreement and the adjustments being made by Governor Little and the Attorney General represent a good-faith effort to continue to remove transuranic waste from the state of Idaho given the DOE's extraordinary failures over the last 25 years.

"The linchpin to this agreement is the status of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, which is not currently operational and is responsible for moving nine hundred thousand gallons of liquid nuclear waste. Given that the unit was supposed to be operational years ago, I am cautiously optimistic The one-time waiver to receive spent nuclear fuel rods from the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois is stipulated upon the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit being online and having treated approximately one percent of liquid waste in the tanks. I believe that Governor Cecil Andrus would have expected the minimum amount treated to be set at a more ambitious level. After all, it represents an incredible threat to our communities that rely on water from the Snake River aquifer.

"Removing the sodium-bonded experimental breeder reactor (EBR) over a period of 8 to 10 years is a positive development especially as it will clean the waste and repurpose the fuel for future projects. I am hopeful that DOE has everything it needs to finally comply with the 1995 Nuclear Agreement, but if history is our guide, we must remain highly skeptical."

Idaho's Congressional Delegation also responded to the agreement:

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson congratulates Governor Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden for reaching an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that allows research quantities of commercial spent nuclear fuel to be brought to the Idaho National Laboratory. 

"I'm thrilled by today's news and want to congratulate Governor Little, Attorney General Wasden, and the Department of Energy for successfully negotiating an update to the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement," said Congressman Simpson. "This is a modernized agreement that reflects the successes of the cleanup mission and the growing and thriving work at the Idaho National Laboratory.  

"I also want to congratulate the world class employees of both the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Idaho National Lab," said Simpson. "This agreement is only possible because of the hard work, dedication, and many milestones that have already been achieved in cleaning up the legacy of the past.  We all know more work needs to be done, and I am grateful for the DOE's continued commitment to finishing that work once and for all.  This agreement paves the way for many more years of successful collaboration between the State of Idaho and the Department of Energy promoting our national security and America's energy future."

Idaho National Laboratory Director Dr. Mark Peters added, "I want to offer my gratitude to Governor Little, Attorney General Wasden, Secretary Perry and the Department of Energy for their commitment to protecting Idaho's environment and enabling the continued vibrancy of Idaho National Laboratory through this agreement," said INL Director Mark Peters.  "It's not often that you can truly call an agreement of this nature a win-win, but I am confident that all parties to this agreement are well-served by it.  The Governor and Attorney General have steadfastly insisted that Idaho be left safer, cleaner, and more secure as a result of any agreement – and today's announcement reflects their determination.  At the same time, the agreement facilitates the promising future we all desire for INL as our nation's nuclear energy research laboratory and the center for development of the next generation of clean energy technologies."

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