Friday, December 28, 2012

Deadline for comments on INL, nuclear energy, is Jan. 4

Spent fuel in wet storage
When it comes to the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Commerce Department Director Jeff Sayer sees a big disconnect between people on either side of the state.

In Idaho Falls, the chief concern is mainly the effect the lab has on the local economy. That's understandable. INL is one of Idaho's biggest payrolls, and it's hard to imagine what this part of the state would look like had the Atomic Energy Commission decided in 1949 to build its test reactors somewhere else.

Ask people in Boise, however, at least seven of 10 would say they wonder about having nuclear materials sitting atop the Snake River Aquifer, he said. The INL's economic benefits? More a matter of, "What has it done for me lately?"

Sayer was in eastern Idaho Thursday to invite anyone with a special insight or opinion about the INL to send their comments to the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission, which he chairs. The deadline for comments is Jan. 4, and the commission will be giving its final report to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Jan. 25.

The biggest issue is whether more nuclear waste from other parts of the country will be allowed into Idaho. A 1995 agreement between Idaho, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy curtailed shipments of spent fuel from government and commercial reactors and set a 2035 deadline for cleanup and the removal of high-level radioactive materials.

But a lot has changed since 1995, Sayer said. When the agreement went into place, the understanding was that Yucca Mountain in Nevada would be open and ready to receive waste from the lab. But now Yucca Mountain has been ruled out and there is currently no permanent repository designated for high-level waste.

Battelle Energy Alliance, whose president, John Grossenbacher, sits on the LINE Commission, has indicated that allowing greater amounts of spent fuel into Idaho would allow it to do expanded research work. In fact, in January 2011 the DOE and the state of Idaho signed a memorandum of agreement setting out conditions under which the INL may receive limited research quantities of used commercial fuels for examination and testing.

This has prompted the Snake River Alliance to invoke the 1995 Settlement Agreement as inviolable. "A consent-based interim storage facility might become a lifelong dump, invitation or not," it said in comments released Dec. 21. "The LINE Commission must not encourage the risk."

Sayer said the commission has no intention of recommending that INL become an interim storage facility. But there are challenges that have to be addressed. For example, the 1995 agreement says calcined waste at the lab -- liquid waste that was incinerated into a salt-like form, then put in double-lined stainless steel tanks -- must be re-characterized, put in new containers and shipped out of state. The cost of doing this has been estimated at around $400 million, and at the moment there is no place for it to go.

Idahoans must also consider that leaders in South Carolina and New Mexico are indicating a willingness to allow waste into their states. "If they agree to let waste in, they're going to want the research, too," he said.

Sayer said he believes, "There are ways to find solutions that will bring Idaho benefit and protect the environment. What we are seeking right now is a conversation in the spirit of respect and not of fear."

A summary of the 1995 Settlement Agreement: http://www.deq.idaho.gov/inl-oversight/oversight-agreements/1995-settlement-agreement.aspx
The Line Commission's Web page: http://line.idaho.gov/
The Snake River Alliance's press released in response to the LINE Commission's Dec. 3 progress report: http://snakeriveralliance.org/snake-river-alliance-responds-to-governors-nuclear-commission/
Web site of the Partnership for Science and Technology (leading eastern Idaho nuclear issues organization): http://www.p-s-t.org/index.php?section=23
A blog posting from Idaho Samzidat Nuke Notes on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future and its January 2012 report to Energy Secretary Steven Chu: