Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

1995 Settlement Agreement: Overview & FAQs

Synopsis of Agreement

In October of 1995, the state of Idaho, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reached agreement (most often called the Settlement Agreement) settling a lawsuit filed by the state to prevent shipment of spent nuclear fuel to the INL for storage. Highlights of the agreement include the following:

  • The state of Idaho will allow a total of 1,135 shipments of spent fuel to come to the INL for interim storage over a 40-year period. Of those shipments, 575 will come from the Navy. The rest will come from other DOE sites, foreign research reactors (if DOE chooses to accept that fuel), university reactors and a specified amount from private companies directly supporting DOE research and development activities.
  • DOE will remove all spent nuclear fuel from Idaho no later than 2035.
  • DOE will treat all high-level waste at the INL, in preparation for final disposal elsewhere, by a target date of 2035.
  • DOE will treat transuranic and alpha-contaminated mixed waste now stored at the INL. Transuranic waste will be removed from the state by a target date of Dec. 31, 2015, and no later than Dec. 31, 2018. An agreement between the state of Idaho and DOE was finalized in 2008 setting forth the compliance requirements for this section of the Settlement Agreement.
  • All spent fuel will be placed in dry storage by Dec. 31, 2023, and such facilities will be placed, if technically feasible, at a point not above the Snake River Plain Aquifer.
  • If DOE fails to remove all spent fuel by 2035, the state may levy a fine of $60,000 per day. If DOE fails to meet any of the agreement milestones at any point, the state may ask the federal court to halt any further spent fuel shipments to the INL.

Why is the Settlement Agreement good for Idaho?

  • Gets nuclear waste out of Idaho. Idaho is now the only state in the nation that has a court order mandating that federal nuclear waste leave state boundaries by a specific date. No other state in the nation has such a legally binding commitment
  • Forces the federal government to dry up ALL the highly radioactive liquid wastes, which greatly reduces the risks to the aquifer
  • Prevents Idaho from becoming the dumping ground for the nation's commercial spent nuclear fuel
  • Protects the economy of eastern Idaho

How much nuclear waste was at the INL before the Settlement Agreement was signed?

According to Idaho's INL Oversight Program, there were 261 metric tons of heavy metal from spent fuel, 65,000 cubic meters of stored transuranic wastes, another 62,000 cubic meters of buried transuranic waste, approximately 2 million gallons of high-level liquid waste and 3,700 cubic meters of calcined (dried liquid) waste already stored at the INL when Governor Batt took office. Until the Settlement Agreement there was no legally binding commitment to remove any of this waste from Idaho until Governor Batt reached his agreement with federal officials.

How many shipments will leave Idaho as a result of this agreement?

DEQ's INL Oversight Division estimates that approximately 10,851 shipments of nuclear material will leave Idaho. The first shipments began leaving Idaho in early 1999. The last shipments should leave Idaho by 2035.

  • Approximately 3,051 shipments of spent fuel will leave Idaho.
  • Approximately 7,800 shipments of transuranic material will leave Idaho for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. An agreement between the state of Idaho and DOE was finalized in 2008 setting forth the compliance requirements for this section of the Settlement Agreement.

Is shipping nuclear waste safe?

Over the past five decades, there have been over 2,500 shipments of spent fuel in the United States. There has not been a single death or injury from the radioactive nature of the cargo.

Railroad casks for shipping spent fuel are 14 inches thick; truck casks are smaller. If a person stood for about an hour, six feet from a truck cask loaded with spent fuel, that person would receive about the same radiation as a person who gets a chest x-ray. A person 100 feet away from a truck cask going 24 miles per hour would receive 10,000 times less radiation than a person exposed to a chest x-ray.

Is commercial spent fuel from nuclear reactors coming to Idaho?

On January 6, 2011, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the state of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy setting out conditions under which the Idaho National Laboratory may receive limited research quantities of used commercial fuels for examination and testing.

What incentives does the federal government have to fulfill its obligations?

If the DOE fails to perform the cleanup activities mandated in the agreement, shipments stop. The agreement also provides substantial incentives for the DOE to open an interim or permanent repository. Once the DOE opens an interim or permanent repository that accepts Idaho's spent fuel, the state many renegotiate the timetable and number of shipments of spent fuel in Idaho. These additional shipments would only be allowed into the state for treatment and prompt removal to a repository. By opening a repository, the DOE would be able to fulfill all of its contractual commitments to accept spent fuel from other locations. The DOE's failure to fulfill these contractual commitments is costing the agency millions of dollars annually.

Source: Office of the Governor, Idaho Attorney General's office, DEQ INL Oversight Program