Idaho nuclear panel seeks to preserve INL research leadership

Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) commission said in a Dec. 3 report that state lawmakers and Idaho’s congressional delegation should work together to ensure that the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) remains a leading force in nuclear research.

The INL is a major economic force in Idaho and state policymakers should fight to keep it that way as DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and various other government agencies face pressure to either cut or consolidate their research efforts, the report said.

The nuclear commission was spawned by Idaho Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter.

“The timing was right for an extensive, external review of INL and nuclear-related activities in Idaho,” Otter said in a Nov. 3 statement. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory,” Otter said.

The commission’s preliminary report was issued Dec. 3. The panel is accepting public comments until Jan. 4, 2013. A final report will be issued to the governor by Jan. 31, 2013.

The preliminary recommendations include forming a Science Advisory Group to focus on nuclear energy facility siting issues. The panel also calls for a liaison office between the INL and the governor.

The panel also endorses INL hosting of several proposed nuclear technology projects ranging from a special testing reactor to a pilot U.S. regional interim storage facility. The panel also calls for a “national reactor testbed” for “hot” testing of pre-commercial reactor components.

While Idaho is not home to a commercial nuclear power plant, many Idaho companies still play significant roles in the nuclear industry. These companies include AREVA and others.         

Idaho has long history with nuclear power issues

Idaho has a long history in nuclear issues that goes back to the 1940s when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, a forerunner to today’s NRC, was seeking a host site for a national reactor testing station.

“Over the years, more than 50 experimental nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, scores of research facilities and several nuclear waste management and disposal facilities have been built on what is now known as the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site,” the report notes.

Most of these early nuclear facilities have long been shut down and are being cleaned up.

The INL is still host to some of the most capable nuclear energy research, development and demonstration infrastructure in the world, including three operating nuclear research reactors (and another – the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) – under consideration for restart) and several facilities for the handling, examination and processing of radioactive materials. The INL site cleanup effort has seen great progress, but much work remains.

Idaho has spent fuel settlement

Some of the spent fuel will remain on the INL site for decades. In 1995 Idaho settled litigation with the federal government concerning shipment of spent nuclear fuel to the INL for storage.

Under the settlement, Idaho will allow a total of 1,135 shipments of spent fuel to come to the INL for interim storage over a 40-year period. Of those shipments, 575 will come from the Navy. The rest will come from other DOE sites, foreign research reactors, university reactors and a specified amount from private companies directly supporting DOE R&D activities.

DOE is also supposed to remove all spent fuel from Idaho no later than 2035. The agreement also said that all spent fuel in wet storage pools would be placed in dry storage by the end of 2023.

A 1996 voter referendum that would have required legislative and voter approval of the spent fuel shipments was defeated.

“With the defeat of the ballot initiative, Idaho became the only state in the nation with a court order mandating that federal nuclear waste leave state boundaries by a specific date. Even today, no other state in the nation has such a legally binding commitment,” the commission said.

Idaho now leads the nation in shipments of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

Idaho National Laboratory is Idaho’s most significant connection to the nuclear industry. The research lab is one of the state’s largest employers and more than $3.5bn in economic impact was linked to INL in a 2010 study.

Commission meetings were held around the state in locations such as Boise, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Moscow. The meetings were public and, in some cases, webcast.

The panel is chaired by Jeffrey Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.