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News >  Idaho

U.S. Navy says it met Idaho deadline on spent nuclear fuel

UPDATED: Tue., May 25, 2021

By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – The U.S. Navy said it has met a deadline for treating spent nuclear fuel from its fleet of nuclear-powered warships that’s stored at its eastern Idaho facility.

The U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program said Monday it has completed putting into dry storage all the spent fuel that was in water pool storage before Jan. 1, 2017. The project was finished 18 months ahead of a required schedule in a 2008 agreement with Idaho.

The agreement was an addendum to a much broader 1995 pact that Idaho reached with the U.S. Department of Energy following a series of lawsuits. The 1995 agreement is widely seen as preventing Idaho from becoming a nuclear waste dump.

The spent fuel processed by the Navy comes from ships, submarines and prototype reactor sites. Since 1957, the Navy has sent the fuel to its Naval Reactors Facility located at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile (2,305-square-kilometer) site west of Idaho Falls.

The Energy Department site also includes the Idaho National Laboratory, a leading nuclear research lab.

The spent fuel is cooled in water before being placed in special canisters and concrete “overpacks,” then stored in buildings at the site.

“The effort to meet this milestone was monumental,” Admiral J.F. Caldwell Jr., director of the Naval Reactors Facility, said in a statement.

The 2008 addendum allows the Navy to continue to process and temporarily store spent nuclear fuel at the site past a 2035 deadline as originally spelled out in the 1995 agreement. But it also requires the spent fuel to be stored safely in Idaho and ultimately removed from the state.

After Jan. 1, 2035, the 2008 agreement allows the Navy to average no more than 20 shipments a year of spent fuel to the state, and to continue to process and store spent nuclear fuel at the site. But the Navy is limited to 9.9 tons.

However, the nation has no repository for spent nuclear fuel, so where it will go after that deadline is not clear. The Navy said that so far, it has placed more than 33 tons of its spent fuel in dry storage after it came from more than 250 naval reactor cores.

The Naval Reactors Facility, which has a workforce of about 1,400, is where the Navy replicated the propulsion plant aboard the USS Nautilus, the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The Navy said the facility continues to play a vital role in designing, building, operating and disposing of nuclear reactors from submarines and aircraft carriers.

In a related matter, the Navy plans to launch the USS Idaho, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, in 2023. It’s scheduled to spend three decades in service.

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