With the issuance of an amended Record of Decision (ROD) in December 2009, DOE completed a three-phase decision strategy for high-level radioactive waste and associated facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and met a major milestone of a 1995 agreement resolving litigation with the State of Idaho (Idaho Settlement Agreement). “This achievement shows that an EIS can have a long shelf life, providing the flexibility to effectively support agency decisions when they are ripe,” said Eric Cohen, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance. 

In the amended ROD, DOE announced the selection of hot isostatic pressing as the technology to treat the 4,400 cubic meters of high-level radioactive waste calcine at INL’s Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC). Calcine is a dry granular powder waste form that is stored at INTEC in six stainless steel bin sets. The bin sets were designed to be secure for at least 500 years. 

Hot Isostatic Pressing Selected

The ROD states that DOE selected hot isostatic pressing because this technology is anticipated to treat the calcine cost-effectively and produce a volume-reduced monolithic waste form suitable for transport outside of Idaho, with completion of treatment by a target date of December 31, 2035, in accordance with the Idaho Settlement Agreement. (The Settlement Agreement required that a ROD be issued no later than December 31, 2009, establishing a plan and date for completion of the treatment of all calcine waste located at INL.) 

The ROD also states that DOE considered the Administration’s intent to terminate funding for the Yucca Mountain program while evaluating nuclear waste disposal alternatives, and indicates that the ultimate disposition of the calcine may be affected by the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission charged with evaluating alternatives for managing and ultimately disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste.1 In view of uncertainty regarding waste disposal, the decision provides flexibility by incorporating an option intended to ensure that wastes will be ready to leave Idaho by 2035 and that includes potential use of treatment additives to produce a glass-ceramic waste form. The ROD notes that the hot isostatic treatment process also provides the technical capability to further treat liquid sodium-bearing waste, which will be treated using a different technology, steam reforming, as announced in the first ROD. 

One EIS Supports Multiple Decisions

DOE issued the Idaho High-Level Waste and Facilities Disposition Final Environmental Impact Statement in October 2002 (DOE/EIS-0287), with the State of Idaho as a cooperating agency. DOE consulted with the State on all of the decisions under the EIS, and the RODs reflect the State’s concurrence and comments on the decisions. The EIS analyzed two sets of alternatives:

  1. processing alternatives for liquid sodium-bearing waste and other liquid waste stored in below grade tanks, and for the high-level waste calcine stored in the bin sets at INTEC (for each waste processing alternative the EIS analyzed multiple implementing options and treatment technologies); and
  2. facility disposition alternatives for the high-level waste management facilities. 

Subsequently, several studies and reviews were conducted before DOE issued RODs under the EIS. In June 2005, DOE issued its Supplement Analysis for the Idaho High-Level Waste and Facilities Disposition Final Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0287-SA-01). The supplement analysis (SA) reviewed proposed waste treatment technologies and updated site characterization data and risk calculations. Based on the SA, DOE determined that the EIS analyses did not require supplementation. On August 3, 2005 (70 FR 44598), DOE issued a notice of preferred treatment technology for sodium-bearing waste, reflecting DOE’s evaluation of treatment technology studies conducted after the 2002 EIS was issued. The notice remedied a concern expressed by some members of the public that the preferred alternative identified in the EIS regarding sodium-bearing waste treatment technology was too broad to adequately inform the public of DOE’s plans. On August 11, 2005, after examining this issue, DOE’s Inspector General concluded that the Idaho EIS process complied with NEPA (LLQR, September 2005, page 12).

1 On January 29, 2010, the President requested that the Secretary of Energy establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (Commission) and appoint its members. In a press release on January 29, 2010, DOE announced the formation of the Commission, charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and making recommendations on alternatives for storing, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. As requested by the President, the Commission’s interim report is due within 18 months and a final report within 24 months. 

In the first ROD (70 FR 75165; December 19, 2005), DOE decided to treat the liquid sodium-bearing waste using a technology known as steam reforming to allow disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico or a geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. DOE also decided to conduct performance-based closure of existing facilities directly related to the high-level waste program at INTEC, excluding the tank farm facilities and bin sets, once their missions are complete. Further, DOE announced a phased decision strategy, with future RODs planned in 2006 and 2009. 

In the second ROD (71 FR 68811; November 28, 2006), DOE decided to conduct performance-based closure of the tank farm facilities. This decision followed the Secretary’s Determination, in consultation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that residual waste at the tank farm facilities would not be high-level waste because the residuals would meet the criteria in Section 3116(a) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004.

A Note on ROD Effective Dates

A DOE ROD must be published in the Federal Register, but DOE may implement the decision before Federal Register publication if the ROD has been signed and the decision and the availability of the ROD have been made public by other means (e.g., press release, announcement in local media). (10 CFR 1021.315(d)) This enables a ROD to be effective (or issued) and action taken before Federal Register publication, which may take three or more days from the date of signature. In the case of the third Idaho ROD, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management signed the ROD on December 23, 2009, but, because of the holidays, the ROD was not immediately submitted to the Federal Register. To ensure that the ROD was issued by December 31, 2009, per the Settlement Agreement, DOE made the signed ROD publicly available by posting it on the INL website and the DOE NEPA Website on December 27. The ROD was docketed for publication in the Federal Register on December 31 (at which time it was available for public inspection), and published in the Federal Register on January 4, 2010 (75 FR 137). [A correction affecting only the heading of the ROD as published on January 4 was published on January 12, 2010 (75 FR 1615).]