By Keith Ridler ,AP
BOISE, Idaho – A US$1.65 billion facility will be built at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho to handle fuel waste from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships, the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday.
Officials said the new facility is needed to keep nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines deployed.
The new construction will be at the Naval Reactors facility on the Energy Department’s southeastern Idaho site that covers about 890-square-miles of high-desert sagebrush steppe. The area also includes the Idaho National Laboratory, considered the nation’s primary lab for nuclear research.
“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,” the Department of Energy said in a statement.
Officials said site preparation is expected to begin in 2017 with construction of the facility likely to start in 2019, creating 360 on-site jobs. The facility is expected to start operating in late 2024.
The Department of Energy formally announced the plan with publication of what’s called a record of decision in the Federal Register. The record of decision made public Tuesday was signed last month by Admiral James F. Caldwell Jr., director of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
The record of decision concludes a lengthy and public environmental process that also looked at continuing using outdated facilities at the eastern Idaho site or overhauling them.
Officials say the new facility will operate through at least 2060 and can handle a new type of spent-fuel shipping container, which is not possible at the current facility. The Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier will use the new container when the carrier becomes operational. So will nuclear-powered submarines under construction, officials said.
The facility will have storage spaces to submerge the fuel waste in water so it cools before being transferred into dry storage areas, said Don Dahl, a spokesman for the Naval Reactors facility.
The places where the waste will be submerged will meet seismic standards aimed at preventing them from being affected by earthquakes, unlike existing storage spaces at the site that don’t meet those standards.