Nu­clear waste pro­cess­ing at Idaho lab to be shut down

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - LOCAL - BY KEITH RI­DLER As­so­ci­ated Press

Fed­eral of­fi­cials will shut down an Idaho nu­clear waste treat­ment project af­ter de­ter­min­ing that it would not be eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble to bring in ra­dioac­tive waste from other states.

In doc­u­ments made pub­lic re­cently, the U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy said the Ad­vanced Mixed Waste Treat­ment Project that em­ploys 650 work­ers will end next year.

Of­fi­cials said work­ers are wrap­ping up pro­cess­ing 85,000 cu­bic yards of ra­dioac­tive waste at the depart­ment’s 890-squaremile site that in­cludes the Idaho Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory.

A $500 mil­lion treat­ment plant han­dles transuranic waste that in­cludes work cloth­ing, rags, machine parts and tools that have been con­tam­i­nated with plu­to­nium and other ra­dioac­tive el­e­ments. The U.S. Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion says transuranic wastes take much longer to de­cay and are the most ra­dioac­tive haz­ard in high-level waste af­ter 1,000 years.

The En­ergy Depart­ment said that be­fore the cleanup be­gan, Idaho had the largest stock­pile of transuranic waste of any of the agency’s fa­cil­i­ties. Court bat­tles be­tween Idaho and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cul­mi­nated with a 1995 agree­ment re­quir­ing the En­ergy Depart­ment to clean up the Idaho site.

The Idaho treat­ment plant com­pacts the transuranic waste, mak­ing it eas­ier to ship and put into long-term stor­age at the Waste Iso­la­tion Pilot Plant in New Mex­ico.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials ear­lier this year floated the idea of keep­ing the $500 mil­lion treat­ment plant run­ning in Idaho with waste from other states. The bulk of that would have been 8,000 cu­bic me­ters of ra­dioac­tive waste from a for­mer nu­clear weapons pro­duc­tion area in Han­ford in eastern Washington.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials and politi­cians gen­er­ally sup­ported the idea be­cause of the good-pay­ing jobs. The Snake River Al­liance, an Idaho-based nu­clear watch­dog group, said it had con­cerns the nu­clear waste brought to Idaho would never leave.

A 38-page eco­nomic anal­y­sis the Depart­ment of En­ergy com­pleted in Au­gust and re­leased this week found “it does not ap­pear to be cost ef­fec­tive due to pack­ag­ing and trans­porta­tion chal­lenges in ship­ping waste” to Idaho.

“As work at the fa­cil­ity will con­tinue into 2019, no im­me­di­ate work­force im­pacts are an­tic­i­pated,” the agency said in an email to The As­so­ci­ated Press on Fri­day. The En­ergy Depart­ment “rec­og­nizes the con­tri­bu­tion of this fa­cil­ity and its employees to DOE’S cleanup mis­sion and looks for­ward to ap­ply­ing the knowl­edge gained and ex­pe­ri­ence of the work­force to other key ac­tiv­i­ties at the Idaho site.”

The agency said it would also con­sider vol­un­tary sep­a­ra­tion in­cen­tives for work­ers.

With the Idaho treat­ment plant sched­uled to shut down, it’s not clear how the transuranic waste at Han­ford and other sites will be dealt with.

The En­ergy Depart­ment “will con­tinue to work to ensure a path for­ward for pack­ag­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of TRU (transuranic) waste at Han­ford and other sites,” the agency said in the email to the AP.

The Post Reg­is­ter first re­ported the clo­sure.

KEITH RI­DLER AP file

Nu­clear waste is stored in un­der­ground con­tain­ers at the Idaho Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory near Idaho Falls. Fed­eral of­fi­cials will shut down a nu­clear waste treat­ment project at the site.

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