In the Idaho Falls Post Register Sunday edition 6/19/16 ( full text here: http://bit.ly/1Ug8kVX ) I said that the plan to build up to 12 50MW small modular reactors at the Idaho National Laboratory on the Arco desert could be at risk if DOE does not meet its cleanup deadlines.
This is not a new issue. I first talked about it last December. I’ve kept an eye on the issue. I am convinced that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden does not want to butt heads with Andrus and Batt. All three of these guys are a problem for anything at the lab site that involves spent fuel and that includes a group of SMRs that will generate it for up to 60 years.
The reason is that senior members of the Idaho political establishment, former governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus, are determined not to see any action that undermines the linkage between cleanup progress at the site and new spent nuclear fuel being brought to the R&D programs at the INL or for any other reason. In a June 10,. 2016, OP ED in the Idaho Statesman, Andrus wrote;
“WIPP, liquid waste and a nonexistent strategy to deal with commercial waste are problems for Idaho and the nation. The fact that Gov. Batt and I have steadfastly resisted, along with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, changes in the 1995 agreement that would allow more waste into the state should be understood simply for what it is: evidence of real concern about decades of DOE mismanagement and broken promises.”
Let me be clear. This is a risk that has always been present. DOE has failed to make progress on cleanup of the sodium bearing waste. The agency is in violation of the Settlement Agreement, and the people with power, real or perceived, like Andrus and Batt, are paying attention.
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. That’s why Andrus pushed successfully to have the spent fuel R&D mission moved from Idaho (INL) to Tennessee (ORNL). If you think national labs aren’t competitive, think again.
DOE’s Site Permit is a Trigger Event
Neither NuScale, the reactor vendor, nor UAMPS, the utility that wants to buy and operate the SMRs, are parties to the Settlement Agreement. However, by choosing a site, from a list of several pending candidates, located within the boundaries of the INL, they will also come under the cloud of DOE’s failed efforts to cleanup the waste and the political linkages to new missions at the lab’s site that involve spent nuclear fuel.
Here’s the anti-nuclear logic. DOE issued a site permit to UAMPs to build an SMR on the INL site. DOE is a party to the settlement agreement, the permit is a DOE action, and Andrus and company will likely see it as another plan related to spent fuel absent progress on cleanup.
On the other hand, if DOE finds a way to make the waste treatment technology work, then the radioactive liquid waste gets turned into powder and goes into special canisters for disposal in New Mexico. Once sealed inside the steel, the waste is removed from being a threat to the environment. The WIPP site in Carlsbad, NM, will reopen to take the waste and everyone goes home happy.
If DOE can’t figure out what to do next, and the waste stays where it is, then Andrus will focus on looking for new targets of opportunity to make DOE feel political pain.
The former governors, and their supporters, including Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, will seek out 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. That’s why there is a risk.
Wisconsin’s interest in SMRs
The timing of the Wisconsin legislature’s action to over turn the state’s ban on new nuclear power plants is very interesting since it comes just a few months after Andrus and Batt ran off the INLs spent fuel R&D project. With regard to the Wisconsin angle, Dominion has been talking about SMRs in Wisconsin since 2013 even though they closed one of their full size reactors there.
Energy firms lined up to lobby the Wisconsin legislature to remove the ban on nuclear power plants. Their interest in SMRs was so apparent that this was all the anti-nukes could talk about in their opposition to the bill.
The political reality is that energy firms, with an entrepreneurial bent, do not waste silver bullets lobbying for something just because they think it is a good idea. They have plans even if they say otherwise to the press.
Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer, NuScale, sent an email on 6/22/16 to this blog for attribution describing NuScale’s potential opportunities in Wisconsin.
[With regard to the Wisconsin legislature’s action to overturn the ban on new nuclear power plants . . .] “I met with Governor Walker and encouraged him to sign the bill to remove the moratorium. I told him that if he did, Wisconsin could then be in a position to consider the optionality of our plants, when and if that should make sense for their utilities. But if the moratorium remained in place, that optionality would not be available. So we were pleased when the moratorium was removed.
Dominion remains an active member of the NuScale Advisory Board (NuAB), and of course we would be pleased to discuss a NuScale project in Wisconsin, should there be utilities who are interested.”
Paul Wilson, a member of the faculty in the engineering physics department at the University of Wisconsin, as recently as last month wrote an OP ED detailing the opportunities for SMRs in that state, and he reminded readers about DOE’s action to issue a site permit to NuScale to build an SMR at the INL lab Arco desert site. Wilson had a role in briefing legislators on the then pending action to remove the ban and wrote OP ED newspaper columns in its favor.
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