Is it time for a change to the Idaho Settlement Agreement?

When the nuclear waste cleanup deal was agreed to more than a decade ago, no one was thinking about small modular reactors.

Readers of this blog may be interested in the ongoing struggle of the Idaho National Laboratory to bring in small quantities of high burn up spent nuclear fuel for R&D purposes. So far this has not happened due to opposition by former Governors Andrus and Batt.

Their view is that until DOE cleans up 900,000 gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste, no spent fuel for an R&D mission should come to INL. This linkage they say is the only way to insure DOE will keep its promises.

As a result of opposition by Andrus, and the Idaho State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Idaho lost the DOE R&D mission and the spent fuel went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

For its part DOE has indeed failed to make progress on the cleanup of the “sodium bearing liquid waste” which is left over from decades of reprocessing US Navy spent nuclear fuel. The project  has ballooned in cost from an initial estimate in 2005 of $160M to a cost of nearly $600M in 2016 and the process treatment center still does not work.

The waste is stored in concrete underground tanks at the Idaho lab’s Arco Desert facility which is managed by a separate contractor than the one that runs the lab’s R&D programs.

On the other hand, NuScale is planning to build 12 50 MW SMRs at the Idaho site with the first one breaking ground as early as 2022.  When complete these units will generate spent nuclear fuel, in Idaho, for at least the next 40-60 years.

The Settlement Agreement makes no provision for a dozen active commercial nuclear reactors generating new spent fuel well past the deadline of 2035 for all spent fuel in Idaho to be shipped to a geologic repository.

I made the case last December and again more recently that if Idaho does not accommodate NuScale’s project by updating the Settlement Agreement, that there are probably investors in Wisconsin who might be interested in taking advantage of that state’s legislature having lifted its ban on new nuclear power plants.

The Idaho Falls Post Register has a round up of opinions on the issue which thanks to a friend back in Idaho made it possible for me to share here a few relevant parts of the text of the article which was published on the newspaper’s web site this evening (6/18/16).

I said in my interview with Post Register reporter Luke Ramseth that it would be simple enough to calculate the actual estimated mass of spent fuel needed for R&D and the mass which would be generated by NuScale’s SMRs, and write those numbers into the Settlement Agreement.

This approach would keep the enforceable milestones in the Federal District Court Order and not compromise opportunities for redress over cleanup by Andrus, Batt, or Wasden.

Andrus and Batt have legitimate concerns about DOE’s lack of progress, but if they don’t sit down to talk things over with Energy Secretary Moniz, they could wind up with a much bigger problem. It would lead to a diminished nuclear R&D center with its high paying jobs high tailing it for Oak Ridge and other more welcoming places.

As for NuScale the firm says it will submit its SMR design to the NRC for its safety review later this year (NuScale roadmap). That process will take three-to-four years. Assuming all goes well, the firm’s customer UAMPS, a consortium of western utilities, will apply for a combined construction and operation license, a process which will also take a minimum of three years. There is some overlap but the goal per the roadmap is to be ready to break ground in mid-2021 following an NRC decision to issue the license for the first SMR unit.

What this timetable means is that Andrus, Batt, Wasden, and anyone else who is hard over about not changing the Settlement Agreement, have some time to think about it, talk about it, and meet with DOE to put some flexibility into the document. The risks of no action are clear.

Comments are welcome.

See update with further details for 6/22/16 and a statement from NuScale.

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5 Responses to Is it time for a change to the Idaho Settlement Agreement?

  1. Pingback: Is it time for a change to the Idaho Settlement Agreement? - Neutron Bytes - Pro-Nuclear Power Blogs - Nuclear Street - Nuclear Power Plant News, Jobs, and Careers

  2. Richard Holman says:

    I hope that the readers recognize that all of this is your opinion and that the things you appear to relate together i.e. the SMR project and the settlement agreement have, legally, nothing to do with each other. Thanks for the opinion but that is all it is and a poorly informed one at that. As for INL jobs headed to ORNL…really? Based on? Might want to look at the facilities and capabilities at the INL again as you have been gone from INL for a REALLY long time. To replicate these in the interest of advancing nuclear R&D would cost hundreds of billions. I don’t think so Dan. Suggest you think through things a little better before you offer ill-founded nonsense.


    • djysrv says:

      I think its important for people not to be in denial about how hard over Cecil Andrus is about the Settlement Agreement and DOE’s lack of progress with cleanup of the sodium bearing waste at INTEC. The linkage to cleanup progress is his historical legacy and he’s not going to give up on it.

      If DOE finds a way to make the IWTU work, then the liquid waste gets calcined and goes into 72B canisters. Once sealed inside the steel, the waste is removed from being a threat to the environment. WIPP will reopen to take the waste and everyone goes home happy.

      On the other hand, if DOE can’t figure out what to do next, and the waste stays where it is, then Andrus stays mad and starts looking for new targets of opportunity to make DOE feel political pain. The guy is focused on anything at the lab site that involves spent fuel and that will eventually include a group of up to 12 50 MW SMRs that will generate it for up to 60 years.


      • Richard Holman says:

        Empty conjecture… why do we feel like we have to get people worked up over this whether you think it has been in the news or not. This isn’t news it is a feeble attempt to be relevant. Find a real story like advancing next gen nuclear. This pot has been stirred beyond sensibility.


  3. djysrv says:

    Readers can find extensive coverage of advanced nuclear reactor technology on this blog at this URL. It includes a repost of my survey of the prospects of several developers as published under my byline by the World Energy Council in London, UK.


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