The State of Idaho has signed a secretly negotiated deal that will allow shipments of highly radioactive commercial nuclear waste to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). It violates the spirit and intent of the1995 agreement between Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy forbidding such shipments into Idaho.

The new memorandum of agreement between Idaho and the Department of Energy (DOE) waives a critical component of former Governor Phil Batt’s 1995 agreement with the DOE and the nuclear Navy. That agreement limits future shipments of nuclear waste into Idaho for long-term storage above the Snake River Plain Aquifer, which is the sole source of drinking water for nearly 300,000 Idahoans.

The 1995 Batt agreement between Idaho, the Navy and the DOE resolved a lawsuit filed by Idaho to challenge waste shipments to INL for storage. The Batt agreement was questioned by many Idahoans, primarily because it allows irradiated nuclear fuel from DOE and foreign research reactors and from the nuclear Navy into Idaho. It has, however, been used effectively by the state to force cleanup of pollution at INL threatening the aquifer. As important, it unambiguously bans commercial spent fuel shipments to Idaho for indefinite storage.

The new deal, reached after lengthy secret negotiations, amounts to a material change to the original agreement.  It allows up to 400 kilograms of waste from commercial power reactors to be sent to Idaho in any given year for what the DOE calls “research purposes” at INL. Once here, the spent fuel will remain until 2035…at least.

Commercial reactors are far and away the largest potential source of irradiated, or spent, fuel. In fact, a fact sheet on the original 1995 agreement on the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) website when the new agreement was signed noted that the nation’s commercial nuclear reactor fleet will generate enough waste for 92,000 shipments over the next 40 years. But it assured Idahoans that the original agreement “specifically prohibits commercial spent fuel from coming to Idaho.”

That assurance should lead all Idahoans to question the state’s new claim that research on commercial fuel at INL “is consistent with the spirit and intent of the 1995 agreement,” which all told, could allow nearly 10 metric tons of commercial spent fuel to come to Idaho.

The state also now brags that the new agreement “better positions the lab to meet the growing technology development and demonstration needs of the nuclear industry.” But the DOE has already acknowledged to the Alliance that no commercial nuclear entity has expressed interest in the kind of research contemplated under the new shipping scheme.

The new deal has faced criticism, notably from former Governor Cecil Andrus, most particularly because it was reached with no public involvement or even knowledge. State and INL officials who were in the backroom when the deal was negotiated have been fierce in its defense.

The Alliance has long advocated that nuclear waste be stored as safely as possible as close to its point of generation as possible. Any other policy continues to put Idaho and other western states in the bull’s-eye for more and more waste storage and our environment at risk. We are seeking more information about the negotiations and the agreement through the federal Freedom of Information Act and Idaho’s Public Records Law.