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New agreement between Idaho and DOE will allow new spent nuclear fuel research at INL

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Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site. | Courtesy DOE

IDAHO FALLS — The State of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy have come to an agreement that will mean new research opportunities at the Idaho National Laboratory, while still requiring the DOE to honor its commitments to nuclear waste cleanup in Idaho.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden signed an agreement with the DOE to provide a path for the DOE to remedy the breaches of its 1995 nuclear waste clean up the agreement.

“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,” Little said in a news release.

The 1995 settlement agreement between the state and the federal government set out guidelines and a timeline for treatment and removal of nuclear waste stored at the INL site. It also stipulated what nuclear waste could come into the state.

In 2012, the DOE began failing to meet its 1995 commitment to treating waste at INL. The department later fell behind its shipments of waste from INL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. In 2018, the DOE failed to meet its deadline to remove all transuranic waste out of Idaho.

As a result, INL stopped getting new spent nuclear fuel rods for research.

This new agreement aims to remedy the research and clean-up concerns.

The agreement gives INL a one-time waiver to receive 25 commercial spent nuclear fuel rods, around 100 pounds, from the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois.

“Conducting research on these materials will improve the understanding of the behavior of nuclear fuels and materials irradiated in commercial reactors. The information gained from this research will help the nation’s nuclear reactors operate for longer periods of time and improve their economics ultimately empowering them to produce more energy as economically as possible,” INL spokeswoman Sarah Neumann told EastIdahoNews.com.

But before INL can receive the fuel rods, the DOE must begin treating the liquid nuclear waste currently stored in tanks directly above the Snake River Aquifer. The liquid is treated by turning it into a solid-state. Once the DOE successfully produces 100 canisters of the liquid-turned-solid waste, INL may receive more spent nuclear fuel in research quantities.

DOE has also agreed to remove at least 300 pounds of special nuclear material by the end of 2021, treat 165 pounds of Sodium Bonded EBR II Driver Fuel Pins until they have all been treated by the end of 2028 and allocate 55 percent of the transuranic waste it ships the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to come from INL.

“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,” INL Director Mark Peters said.

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