A new $1.65 billion Expended Core Facility in Idaho will handle fuel waste from the U.S.’ fleet of nuclear-powered warships.
Site preparation will begin in 2017, the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday.
Located at the Naval Reactors facility at the Idaho National Laboratory, the new facility will support the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program’s (NNPP) mission to provide the U.S. with safe, effective and affordable naval nuclear propulsion plants.
“This action will provide the infrastructure necessary to support the naval nuclear reactor defueling and refueling schedules to meet the operational needs of the U.S. Navy,” Department of Energy officials said.
The NNPP is a joint Navy and Energy Department organization and has been sending spent Navy fuel to the Idaho site by rail from shipyards since the 1950s. Construction on the new facility will begin by 2019, creating 360 on-site jobs, and should start operating in late 2024.
“(NNPP) comprises the military and civilian personal who design, build operate, maintain and manage the nuclear power ships and the many facilities that support the United States Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet,” said Don Dahl, a spokesman for the Naval Reactors facility. “This program has all cradle-to-grave responsibility for all (NNPP) matters.”
Part of that responsibility included conducting a lengthy and public environmental impact study, which evaluated the NNNP’s capability to support safe naval spent-nuclear-fuel handling for at least the next 40 years.
Other alternatives to a new site included taking no action, which would have “large and profound impacts to naval spent nuclear fuel management and national security needs.”
And overhauling the existing facilities could “impact the ability of ECF to operate for several years” and “would necessitate operational interruptions for extended periods of time.”
No method was environmentally preferred, however, the new facility option would involve the largest amount of ground surface disturbance, but would provide the lowest risk from seismic hazards.
“A lot of the capabilities are going to be very similar,” Dahl said. “It is going to give us a capability to handle larger fuel that’s coming from aircraft carriers.”
Nuclear waste entering Idaho prompted lawsuits when state leaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s thought the site was becoming a permanent nuclear waste repository. The lawsuits culminated in a 1995 agreement, then a 2008 addendum, limiting such shipments and requiring most nuclear waste to be removed from the federal site by 2035. The deal applies to the Navy’s spent nuclear fuel.
Under the agreement, fuel waste coming to the new facility after 2035 will only remain for the six years it takes to cool in pools. After that, it’s required to be put in dry storage and taken out of Idaho. However, the nation has no repository for spent nuclear fuel at this time, so where it will go is unclear.