Idaho will allow the U.S. Department of Energy to bring in more spent nuclear fuel for research at the Idaho National Laboratory—if the federal agency steps up efforts to clean the site first.
Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden finalized a deal with the DOE on Nov. 6 that they said they hope will help cure breaches in the state’s 1995 Settlement Agreement, which outlines a strict plan to remove legacy waste from the site, while allowing research to continue at the laboratory.
The new deal ends a stalemate that dates back at least seven years. In 2012, the DOE began to miss cleanup deadlines—and, per the 1995 agreement, the state began to block the shipment of spent nuclear fuel to the lab as punishment.
Under the 2019 Supplement Agreement, the INL can receive a one-time waiver to bring in around 100 pounds of spent nuclear fuel rods. In exchange, the department must first start processing radioactive liquid waste—currently stagnant above the Snake River Plain Aquifer—into a safer, dry material.
The DOE also agreed to additional cleanup, granting 55 percent of its transuranic waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico to the lab’s backstock of processed and packed material—lower-grade waste that includes rags, clothes and other items contaminated by radioactive elements. And, it committed to treating and removing other nuclear material from the state on an accelerated timeline.
The terms also allow for future waivers to be granted once treatment benchmarks are met.
“This agreement is good for the state of Idaho,” Wasden said in a statement. “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.”