By Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden
Let's start with this fact: We would never do anything to compromise the integrity of Governor Batt's landmark 1995 agreement on nuclear waste and spent fuel. Period.
We strongly believe there will be a renaissance of nuclear energy in America, and that the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) should be at the forefront of that resurgence -- leading the research and development effort to ensure our country's reactors are safer, more efficient and more productive.
We believe just as strongly that this can and must happen in a way that protects Idaho's water and environment and requires the Department of Energy to meet all of the cleanup requirements under the 1995 agreement negotiated by Governor Batt.
There is great interest by the commercial industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the INL researching ways to increase reactor efficiency and improve existing fuel performance. The INL has conducted this type of research for the commercial industry in the past, but the approval process was time consuming and the case-by-case process caused the industry to look overseas or to simply give up.
That's why we negotiated the Memorandum of Agreement with the INL, establishing the process for the lab to receive, measure and study small quantities of irradiated commercial fuel for research purposes and then store sample remnants for future follow-up exams. We worked on the agreement over the past year with former governors and members of Idaho's congressional delegation; however, we signed it only when we were absolutely sure that all the deadlines and limits of Governor Batt's 1995 agreement remained firmly and irrevocably in place.
Additionally, the agreement includes limits on the amount of commercial fuel the INL can bring to Idaho and keep at the lab. Moreover, all commercial spent fuel received by the INL counts toward the cap of 55 metric tons of spent fuel the state will receive as established by the 1995 agreement. Under our latest agreement, all commercial fuel must be removed from Idaho by 2035. That is the same deadline set forth in the 1995 agreement for removing all U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) spent fuel. Finally, the state can unilaterally terminate the agreement at any time, and for any reason.
All of these safeguards, coupled with the original protections of Governor Batt's agreement, create the proper balance between ensuring Idaho does not become the nation's dumping ground and incentivizing future investment in the lab.
By including commercial fuels within the limits of the 1995 Settlement Agreement, we now force the DOE to decide whether it brings in only DOE spent fuels -- which have the right to be in Idaho until 2035 -- or small quantities of commercial fuel on which it can conduct research that is beneficial to the industry. And by forcing the DOE to count those commercial shipments against the shipment cap established in the 1995 agreement, once it reaches the ceiling of its limitations the burden is on the DOE to decide what to do with the current inventory in order to keep this vital process going.
This new agreement will help solidify the role of the INL as the nation's lead nuclear energy research facility, protect thousands of existing jobs and create incentives for future jobs, funding and investment, without jeopardizing or in any way weakening the 1995 agreement.
The fact is, this agreement is good for the nation, good for the INL, and good for Idaho.