Idaho, Navy strike nuclear agreement
INL to store spent Naval nuclear fuel beyond original deadline
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Some of Idaho's leading public officials on Wednesday joined representatives from the U.S. Navy to announce an agreement extending nuclear Navy waste management at the Idaho National Laboratory beyond 2035, the previous deadline for the Navy's nuclear waste to be removed from the state.
A 1995 settlement between Idaho, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Navy established parameters for the nuclear Navy's presence in Idaho from 1995 through 2035 and provided for 65 metric tons of spent nuclear waste to be stored at the INL, which is east of Arco. The new agreement, said Kathleen Trever, who helped negotiate the 1995 agreement and is working for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter as a contract consultant, allows for an additional 9.75 metric tons beyond 2035.
"The framework of the 1995 settlement basically gave the government 40 years to open up a repository or find another way to deal with the fuel in Idaho," Trever said. "What this agreement does is when fuel comes in for research and examination, all of the Navy fuel from every aircraft that gets unloaded from aircraft carriers, submarines, all comes to Idaho so the Navy can examine performance categories."
While Idaho officials, including Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, expressed enthusiasm for the ongoing role Idaho will play in helping to bolster national security, as well as touting the limit established on nuclear waste allowed in the state beyond 2035, the state's nuclear watchdog, the Snake River Alliance, was not pleased.
"This has got to stop," said alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley. "The people of Idaho will refuse to be the next best thing to Yucca Mountain, which as it is going right now will never open."
Shipley said it seems as if the extension of the agreement is to allow the nuclear Navy to continue to ship and store its waste in Idaho indefinitely beyond 2035.
Trever agreed that something needs to be done to meet the criteria set forth in the 1995 settlement.
"The country either needs to open a fuel repository or deal with the fuel in some other way," she said. "The original settlement agreement was silent about what would happen in Idaho after 2035, and the Navy wanted to make sure it had a long-term relationship with Idaho."
The nuclear Navy began operations at the Idaho National Laboratory in 1949, building the first nuclear submarine prototype for the USS Nautilus. In the intervening decades, the Navy built other prototypes and conducted training for personnel to operate reactors for submarines and surface ships.
Current Navy operations at INL focus on spent fuel examination and preparation for disposal in an as-yet unknown repository outside Idaho.
Shipley said the Naval Reactors Facility at the INL touts the improvements in nuclear Navy fuel that have dramatically decreased refueling requirements and, hence, the amount of spent fuel produced. She said that it is, however, likely that only a small percentage of spent fuel is now subjected to thorough examination and testing, which means the INL is more of a spent fuel storage facility.
Idaho's governor disagrees. He said the new agreement will prevent the state from becoming an indefinite repository.
"With appreciation for those who held this office before me, worked out the 1995 agreement with Navy officials and recognized the need to look to the future, this addendum renews Idaho's critical role in supporting nuclear energy and the Navy's national security mission," Otter said. "It ensures Idaho will help the Navy continue important research for its nuclear fleet while protecting Idaho from becoming a spent fuel repository by default."
In conjunction with the agreement, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program plans to refurbish its facilities in Idaho for long-term operations.
"This agreement ... maintains Idaho's productive relationship with the Navy and keeps enforceable limits on spent fuel shipments, inventory and storage conditions," Wasden said.
A press release from Otter's office says the Navy's work in Idaho has contributed significantly to the U.S. nuclear fleet's effectiveness, with more than 139 million miles safely traveled, and a new generation of reactors that can operate without refueling for the life of a ship.
Navy officials also said they were pleased with the agreement.
"The Navy appreciates Idaho's important contributions to keeping our nuclear fleet operating safely and effectively as we perform our missions around the globe," said Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Director Admiral Kirkland Donald. "We look forward to our continued partnership with Idaho."