The U.S. Energy Department has canceled a plan to ship to the Idaho National Laboratory spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors out of state, a controversial proposal that drew protests from two former governors and a lawsuit from one of them.
Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in January expressed conditional support for two proposed deliveries of the high-level radioactive waste, saying it would raise the lab’s profile and boost the local economy around Idaho Falls, where the facility is located.
But talks between the Department of Energy (DOE) and Idaho broke down amid mounting opposition to the plan by two of Idaho’s former governors, one of whom filed a lawsuit last month seeking information he said the federal agency was concealing about the proposal.
Cecil Andrus, a Democrat who served four terms as governor, said at the time that he suspected DOE’s intent was to turn the sprawling research facility along the Snake River into a de facto nuclear dump in the absence of a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste elsewhere in the United States.
Earlier this year, Andrus and former Governor Phil Batt, a Republican, accused DOE of violating a 1995 agreement that banned such shipments to Idaho.
Specifically, they said the Energy Department had not yet complied with a provision of the accord requiring removal of nuclear waste already stored at the lab to reduce impacts on an aquifer that supplies drinking water to tens of thousands of Idaho residents.
In a statement sent Friday to Idaho National Lab workers, the director, Mark Peters, said he had been informed that the state and DOE “were unable to reach an understanding that would have enabled the first of two recently discussed shipments of research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to come to INL.”
Peters said in his statement that the spent nuclear fuel in question would be delivered instead to “another DOE facility,” though it was not made clear where the materials were now destined.
The Energy Department did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, Idaho’s attorney general said he was disappointed by the DOE decision but added he was hopeful the agency would come into compliance with the clean-up spelled out in the 1995 agreement.
Otter, a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)