Beatrice Brailsford: Nuclear waste deal wrong for Idaho via The Spokesman-Review

At the beginning of 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy succeeded in wresting a preliminary agreement from Idaho’s governor and attorney general to allow two shipments of “research quantities” of commercial-spent nuclear fuel into Idaho. The proposal, if implemented, will almost certainly open the state to substantially more nuclear waste in the near future.

Imports of commercial-spent fuel are banned by the 1995 Settlement Agreement, which was reached after decades of nuclear waste shipments into Idaho raised opposition throughout the state. The framework for research quantities of spent fuel was set in a 2011 memorandum of agreement between the Idaho National Laboratory and the state.

The new deal – two 25-rod shipments within the year – immediately raised concerns about lowering Idaho’s shield against more nuclear waste. But the DOE and contractor Battelle countered with the assurance that the quantities involved were oh-so-small: about 100 pounds per shipment. Even so, former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt spoke out against the new move. As Batt said, “You take an ounce of the waste from the federal government, they want to give you 10,000 pounds. And they always say they’ll move it out, but they won’t.”


All the spent nuclear fuel rods that may come here are “high burnup,” meaning they were left in the reactor longer to increase the operators’ profit margin. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been approving the practice of higher burnup across the industry. But the cladding of the spent fuel produced may be less ductile and therefore more likely to crack. That makes storage and transportation difficult.

Virtually everyone involved in trying to solve this country’s nuclear waste problem recognizes a key impediment: No one trusts the federal government’s ability, or even its intention, to live up to its commitments. The current situation is a perfect illustration. The government gave the go-ahead to practices that might make nuclear waste even more difficult to handle. And now the government wants to back away from its promise to spare Idaho from increasing commercial-spent nuclear fuel storage.


Beatrice Brailsford is with the Snake River Alliance, Idaho’s grass-roots nuclear watchdog and clean energy advocate.

Read more at Beatrice Brailsford: Nuclear waste deal wrong for Idaho

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