Gov. Brad Little and Atty. Gen. Lawrence Wasden have reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that addresses the handling of spent nuclear fuel generated during operations of the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

The ATR is the world’s premier nuclear test reactor. It provides national priority nuclear fuel and materials testing capabilities for military, federal, university, and industry customers. Among many uses, the research done at the ATR has contributed and continues to contribute to the exceptional operational performance of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines.

The agreement resolves uncertainty about how commitments made in the 1995 Settlement Agreement to eliminate wet storage of spent nuclear fuel apply to operations of the ATR. It also provides the state with assurance that the ATR facility will not keep nuclear materials in wet storage longer than necessary.

Under the 1995 agreement, wet storage of spent nuclear fuel is prohibited past 2023. Operations of the ATR, however, require that some fuel be maintained in an indoor, water-filled canal as a means of cooling the fuel after its use for research. The new agreement will allow the ATR facility to continue operating its canal beyond 2023, so long as certain conditions are met.

The five provisions in the new agreement put timelines on the storage of spent fuel in the canal before placement into dry storage. They also place requirements to remove the fuel from Idaho, and create requirements for the DOE to provide the state with an annual accounting of the fuel in the ATR canal and applicable timelines for the fuel to be put into dry storage and removed from Idaho.

The agreement also lays out remedies should DOE fail to satisfy the agreed-upon requirements.

It is the second INL-related announcement Little and Wasden have made in three months. In November, they announced a framework for the DOE to cure breaches of the 1995 Settlement Agreement and allow for future research on commercial spent nuclear fuel at INL.

“This agreement upholds the 1995 Settlement Agreement, which was negotiated by my friend and mentor Phil Batt and has made Idaho safer and cleaner,” Little said. “The agreement we just signed ensures the cutting-edge nuclear energy research at the ATR will continue, and will be done so safely. I am extremely pleased with the improved relationship between our state and the U.S. Department of Energy, and I want to thank Attorney General Wasden as well as Secretary Brouillette and the leadership at INL for their commitment to working collaboratively to build a safe, strong, clean and vibrant future for INL.”

“I’m pleased with this agreement because it provides certainty to our state regarding how the Department of Energy will manage this particular spent nuclear fuel while also creating an ongoing system of accountability,” Wasden said. “It’s a win-win because it also provides the department with the certainty to continue operating this important research facility at INL.”