Idaho site achieves spent fuel milestone

March 30, 2023, 3:00PMRadwaste Solutions
William “Ike” White addresses the audience at INTEC, which gathered to celebrate the completion of the spent fuel wet-to-dry project at the INL site. (Photo: DOE)

At Idaho National Laboratory, Department of Energy leaders joined tribal, state, and local officials; contractors; and workers on March 28 to mark a recent milestone with the state of Idaho nearly 25 years in the making. The milestone was the completion of a spent fuel wet-to-dry project more than nine months ahead of a 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement deadline.

History: Transfers of spent fuel elements began in the late 1990s and were completed this month.

For decades, the INL site stored thousands of spent fuel assemblies from government and commercially owned reactors in water-filled basins and cement-lined internal canals at specific locations across the 890-square-mile site for cooling and radiation shielding.

Initially, most of the fuel was slated for reprocessing at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) to recover unused uranium, but a U.S. policy change in 1992 ended reprocessing across the DOE complex.

Transfers of spent fuel from wet to dry storage were originally called for by the state of Idaho due to the potential threat to the underlying Snake River Plain Aquifer, which at the north end of the site flows 220 feet below the ground surface to more than 1,000 feet below surface at the southern boundary.

The last of the fuel removed from a basin at INTEC was from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II, which operated from 1964 to 1994 at the Materials and Fuels Complex. At one time, the reactor provided power across the INL site.

Although fuel will no longer be stored, the water-filled basin will be kept open until the Idaho Environmental Coalition (IEC) completes disposition of other fuel components. Once that work is complete, the DOE is expected to decide the future use of the facility.

The celebration: Honored were spent fuel handlers, operations personnel, engineers, radiological protection employees, and others who worked on the spent fuel project. About 500 attendees joined in the ceremonies. Among them were Brad Little, Idaho’s governor; Raúl Labrador, Idaho’s attorney general; Connie Flohr, Idaho Cleanup Project manager; Ty Blackford, IEC president; John Wagner, INL director; William “Ike” White, senior advisor for the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management; Katy Huff, the DOE’s assistant secretary, Office on Nuclear Energy; Gil Pratt, Naval Reactors representative; and congressional staffers.

Words of praise: “I greatly appreciate the collaboration within DOE and thank the Idaho National Laboratory and the Naval Reactors team for their efforts and resources that made achieving this milestone possible,” said White. “We will work together to meet future milestones.”

White added, “To the people who did the work: Thank you for your dedication, expertise, and professionalism. Thank you for being accountable to American taxpayers. And most importantly, thank you for protecting the environment.”

Gov. Little said the cleanup is a success story not only for INL but also for the entire DOE complex: “This lab and its people that work here enrich the lives and livelihood across the state.”

Addressing the attendees, Huff said, “All of you in this room, outside this room, and across this complex have helped the Department of Energy complete this tremendous milestone nine months early. That is something I never get to say. You have made this possible.”

Blackford thanked IEC employees. “This was not an 8-to-5 job,” he said. “This was 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Thank you for your dedication to the mission.”

More info: The DOE offers information online about the Idaho Cleanup Project.

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