Planned fuel handling facility at site ‘vitally important’ to Navy

Local

Department of Energy Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, left, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Congressman Mike Simpson and Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Admiral Frank Caldwell break ground for the Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility. | Myles Primm, EastIdahoNews.com

ARCO — A building project at the Naval Reactors Facility on the Idaho National Laboratory site will pay “huge dividends” for national defense, a visiting Navy admiral says.

The Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility will handle spent fuel in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The program manages 101 reactors used on aircraft carriers and submarines, or more than 45 percent of the Navy’s combat vessels.

Right now, spent nuclear fuel from the NNPP is being processed through the Expended Core Facility at the site. In addition to having aging equipment — the old facility is 60 years old — it can’t process full-length containers of spent fuel from aircraft carriers. The Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility, however, will be able to do so.

Ground was broken Thursday in a ceremony attended by local, state and federal leaders, as well as site employees. It was the first time media was allowed at the NRF — which is inside the Idaho National Laboratory site — since 1998.

“(The new facility) is vitally important for what we’re doing to do as the Navy,” said Admiral Frank Caldwell, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, called the Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility “long overdue.”

He said the lack of a permanent repository in the United States for spent nuclear fuel is an issue that could be resolved as soon as this year. Finding a permanent repository to store vast quantities of nuclear waste or radioactive materials — including large quantities of waste in Idaho — has been a topic of discussion for many years.

“That’s been a failure of Congress and the past administration to not reach a resolution,” he said.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said she wasn’t worried about the length of time needed for the federal government to come up with a permanent home for nuclear waste.

“The casks (that contain the spent fuel) are safe enough to have a picnic on with your children,” she said. “(They) are made to last 10,000 years. Idaho is safe.”

This artist’s rendition of the Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility to be built at the Naval Reactors Facility.

M290 shipping containers contain spent nuclear fuel used by aircraft carriers. The Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility will be able to handle these. | Myles Primm, EastIdahoNews.com

Respond to this story