Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reiterated on Thursday his stances on shipments of spent nuclear fuel to Idaho, during an Idaho National Laboratory citizens advisory board meeting in Sun Valley.
Wasden gave a timeline outlining why he wants to keep new shipments of spent fuel rods out of the state. He initially outlined the 1995 Batt Agreement, which the Department of Energy is out of compliance with. In the agreement, the DOE was required to remove or process different types of spent nuclear waste. That agreement included the DOE converting all “sodium-bearing liquid high-level wastes” into less-volatile powder through calcination by Dec. 31, 2012.
Currently, there are 900,000 gallons of that type of fuel in three storage tanks at the INL site near Arco, which sits over the Snake River Aquifer.
“It’s 900,000 gallons and not a single ounce of it has been processed,” he said. “My sole remedy for their failure to process 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing liquid high-level wastes is to prevent spent fuel from coming into the state. I’ve got no other tools in the tool box. That’s it.”
Wasden has come under fire from both Gov. Butch Otter and the state Legislature for this stance. Through the Batt Agreement, both the state attorney general and governor are required to oversee the agreement.
Critics of Wasden have said that more shipments could bring millions of dollars to Idaho workers at the INL site and elsewhere and could lead to further developments on how to deal with spent nuclear fuel. The critics also note that under the Batt Agreement, INL was designated as the nation’s lead nuclear spent-fuel lab.
Responding to those critics, Wasden said he does want to support the federally-managed lab and Idaho workers, and does think two delayed shipments of nuclear fuel should go to INL. However, he said, the money lost through not bringing in the fuel shipments would be small in comparison to the effects of 900,000 gallons of waste leaking into the aquifer.
The DOE has treated millions of gallons of contaminated water and removed about 32,000 55-gallon barrels of radioactive and hazardous waste since the 1995 agreement.
According to a 2013 Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission report, “959 of 964 cleanup milestones for the INL site have been met on time, thousands of shipments of nuclear wastes buried at the site have been sent to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility for disposal, and spent fuel on site has been transferred from wet to safer and more robust dry storage.”
Noting this, Wasden’s critics have said that the DOE has done all it can and is working hard on completing a facility to process the remaining waste.
Wasden said the DOE has done “a tremendous job” cleaning up waste at INL, but that it has not done a great job of working with him to figure out a path forward. Wasden said he does not want to require the DOE to do something “impossible” by processing all the waste before he signs off on further shipments, but he does want to know that there is an established path forward.
Wasden showed letters of how he requested face-to-face meetings with DOE officials several times and did not get those meetings. He also showed that on Jan. 8, 2015, he told Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that he would consider a one-time waiver to allow spent-fuel shipments into the state if DOE and Idaho officials can agree on an enforceable timeline “for timely resolving the 1995 Settlement Agreement issues.” The DOE responded that it did not want to negotiate.
In general, Wasden said that his actions have been to protect the state long-term. He said it’s not a matter of if the three tanks of liquid high-level waste will leak, but when.
He said in an interview that the citizens advisory board invited him to talk at the meeting and that with that time, he wanted to explain things from the start because “you can’t understand the end without understanding the beginning.”