Idaho National Laboratory, Clean Up Contractor, Mum On Nuclear Waste Change

Jun 7, 2019

Federal officials say a move to reclassify high-level nuclear waste will not affect an agreement to remove that material from Idaho, though there are some skeptics.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration changed the standard for what nuclear waste is classified as “high-level” based on how radioactive it is, compared to how it was produced. That’s important, because high-level waste has to be stored deep within the earth to avoid any potential contamination.

Beatrice Brailsford is with the anti-nuclear group Snake River Alliance. She says reclassifying it to a lower threat level could make it easier to move the waste out of Idaho.

“But it will also be easier to abandon that waste right here. It will remove some of the requirements that call for it to be disposed of someplace other than Idaho,” Brailsford said.

A release from the Department of Energy announcing the move says, “This one-size-fits-all approach has led to decades of delay, costs billions of dollars and left the waste trapped in DOE facilities … without a permanent disposal solution.”

Much of this kind of waste is stored at Hanford Nuclear Site in central Washington, while Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Idaho National Laboratory hold the rest.

On Tuesday, a contractor at Idaho National Laboratory said it was close to processing 900,000 gallons of high-level waste after holding another round of successful tests.

Neither the contractor nor INL would answer questions as to whether this reclassification would halt that work.

In a statement, Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden say reclassification “may make sense in some circumstances.”

They say that’s as long as the feds don’t break a 1995 settlement agreement to ship waste out of the state – even though they’ve already missed deadlines to do so.

“Two of our priorities are strengthening the research mission of the Idaho National Laboratory and ensuring that the 1995 Settlement Agreement is carried out. The Department of Energy has assured us that this action will not change the obligations of the 1995 Settlement Agreement,” they said.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R) issued a statement saying, “The Department of Energy has said it will not take any implementation action without first consulting with affected state and local officials,” and that Little and Wasden will be the ones to work with DOE to uphold the terms of the settlement.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jim Risch (R) said his office was talking further with the Department of Energy to learn more about how these changes will affect Idaho.

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