New Navy Nuke Waste Facility Approved for Idaho

December 9, 2016

The Navy and U.S. Department of Energy have announced official approval to build a $1.65 billion facility at a nuclear site about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho to handle nuclear fuel waste from the nation's fleet of nuclear-powered warships. Site prep will begin in 2017 and construction is set for 2019. An estimated 360 on-site jobs are expected by the operating start in late 2024.

The new facility will be built at the 890-square mile Idaho National Laboratory site in eastern Idaho. The decision to build a new facility at the lab site instead of refurbishing an older or outdate site  was in part due to environmental concerns and the need for state-of-the-art technology with which to handle and store the waste. The new facility will handle a new type of spent fuel shipping container that requires a larger pool with a different configuration to cool the waste fuel before it goes into dry storage. It takes about six years for the waste to cool in the pools. The Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and nuclear-powered submarines will use the larger containers.

After the six-year cooling time, Idaho law requires the spent fuel to be put in dry storage and taken out of the state. An agreement in 1995 said the spent fuel had to be removed from Idaho by 2035, but an addendum in 2008 extended that deadline in part because the U.S. has no repository for spent nuclear fuel at this time. The facility currently stores about 32 metric tons of spent fuel.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, a joint Navy and Energy Department organization, has been shipping spent Navy fuel to the Idaho site by rail since 1957.