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Idaho National Laboratory (INL)

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The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is the Nation’s leading nuclear research laboratory and a very important partner in Idaho. It provides a great deal of employment in eastern Idaho and throughout the state. Among other things, its research mission addresses complex energy issues and nuclear engineering challenges. However, the INL site also has a legacy of nuclear waste issues that are yet to be resolved.

Governor, Cecil Andrus initiated a lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) because of DOE’s failure to clean up significant amounts of nuclear waste that had been disposed of both above and below ground at INL. Governor Phil Batt, who took office in 1995, picked up where Governor Andrus left off and pursued the case to a negotiated settlement. That agreement is often referred to as the 1995 Agreement, the Settlement Agreement or sometimes as the Batt Agreement.   You can read the terms of the agreement here. You will notice that the two signatories for the State of Idaho are the Governor and the Attorney General. There are other signatories for the Department of Energy.

That agreement was embodied in a Federal District Court Order issued by Judge Edward Lodge. You can read the Federal District Court order here.  

In addition, the 1995 Agreement was subjected to a citizen’s referendum (Proposition Number 3) in the November 1996 Election.   The referendum attempted to disapprove the 1995 agreement. The referendum failed by a significant margin. You can view the election results here.

In its simplest form, the 1995 Agreement requires three things to occur simultaneously:

  1. Idaho is not to become a nuclear waste dump;
  2. Idaho is to support the research mission of INL; and
  3. DOE is to meet specific milestones to cleanup specified nuclear waste at INL.

There are several other parts of the 1995 Agreement that is important, but two are of particular note. First, Idaho has the discretion to waive the requirements of the 1995 agreement; and, second, in many instances, Idaho’s sole remedy for DOE’s failure to comply is for Idaho to preclude DOE’s shipment of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) into the state.

Idaho has complied with the terms of the 1995 Agreement. DOE has not and is, therefore, in breach of the Agreement. However, in some very significant areas, such as Transuranic (TRU) waste, DOE has done remarkable work cleaning up legacy nuclear waste. I have and continue to applaud DOE for that work. Yet, the shipments of TRU waste to a permanent repository are behind the schedule set out in the 1995 Agreement and need to be addressed. Under the 1995 agreement, all TRU waste is to leave Idaho by December 31, 2018. It is unlikely that DOE will comply with this requirement. This issue needs to be addressed, as well.

However, the most significant cleanup problem at INL is 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing high-level liquid waste that sits in three stainless steel tanks above the East Snake Plain Aquifer. The liquid has been in those tanks for almost 60 years. At some point, those tanks will leak. The danger is that as a leaking liquid, the waste will percolate into the soil and contaminate the aquifer. Under the 1995 Agreement, DOE was to solidify (calcine) the liquid waste by no later than December 31, 2012. DOE has not processed a single ounce of that waste and has spent nearly $1 Billion on the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) to provide a process for solidifying that waste. Unfortunately, up to now, the IWTU does not work. I am hopeful that it will work in the near future, but no one is yet certain of that outcome.

On December 31, 2014, then Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, sent a letter to me indicating that DOE wished to send two shipments of SNF to Idaho for testing. In making that request, DOE essentially asked that Idaho waive the requirements of the 1995 Agreement. Secretary Moniz also said that Idaho had to make its decision by January 9, 2015, just nine days after the letter had been sent. You can read the exchange of letters between DOE and me here.

I made two proposals for DOE to cure its breach, but DOE rejected them. DOE’s proposals have not been to cure the breach and have not been adequate. DOE said they would not negotiate with me and they would not sign any agreement containing dates.

My hope is that the IWTU will soon be operational or that DOE will find some other method of treating the liquid waste. The INL laboratory is very important to Idaho and should be allowed to fulfill its mission. It is critical that DOE address its breach of the 1995 Agreement in order to allow INL to carry out its laboratory function. I believe that with the change of Administration we have a prime opportunity to resolve this issue.