Liquid sodium-bearing liquid waste is converted into a solid form, left, and put in a 10-foot tall canister that’s placed in a concrete vault. See how it works in the video above. | Video courtesy Idaho Environmental Coalition
ARCO – The Idaho Cleanup Project, along with the Idaho Environmental Coalition, the U.S. Department of Energy, Gov. Brad Little and other dignitaries, celebrated the efforts of hundreds of workers Wednesday who built the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) in the Arco desert and began the process of converting liquid radioactive waste into a safer, solid form.
The treatment of sodium-bearing radioactive liquid waste got underway in April more than a decade after the facility was completed. So far, more than 68,000 gallons of waste have been treated out of the 900,000 gallons that still remain in an underground tank farm on the site.
The Snake River Aquifer is several hundred feet below the surface of the IWTU, and the reason the conversion of this waste into a solid form is significant is because it’s preventing the possibility of a leak that could contaminate the water supply for eastern Idaho.
Getting to this point has been challenging, and Connie Flohr, manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project, praised the efforts of the men and women who have been involved from the beginning.
“I cannot say enough good things about the workers here,” Flohr tells EastIdahoNews.com. “They have literally carried the weight of this project on their shoulders and I could not be more proud of how dedicated, devoted (they are) and how much perseverance they’ve demonstrated to get this plant to where it is.”
Connie Flohr discussing the treatment process and worker’s accomplishments during an interview with EastIdahoNews.com | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
The waste comes from spent nuclear fuel that was reprocessed between 1952 and 1992 at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. Three years after the state quit processing spent fuel, it filed a lawsuit so it wouldn’t become a national dumping ground for radioactive waste. One of Idaho’s responsibilities as part of a 1995 settlement agreement with the federal government is to transfer spent nuclear fuel from wet storage to dry storage.
The IWTU was specifically built to treat liquid sodium-bearing waste, which is stored in three stainless steel 300,000 gallon storage tanks that are part of a tank farm of 15 tanks. Twelve of those tanks previously contained a different type of radioactive waste that was converted into a sand-like substance called calcine. That project was completed in 2000.
The IWTC uses steam-reforming technology, according to a fact sheet about the plant. Liquid waste is injected into a heated vessel. Billions of tiny beads inside help dry it out. The solid material coats the beads similar to how a pearl is formed. It’s then put in 10-foot tall canisters that are placed in a concrete vault. Workers are able to treat about one canister of waste a day, officials say. See how it works in the video above.
Several delays have prevented this project from happening sooner. Construction on the 53,000-square-foot building didn’t begin until 2007. Once it was complete in 2012, there were technological challenges that required them to do multiple tests with a simulated waste.
“We’ve done a lot of runs with simulated waste, which doesn’t have all the radio nuclides in it that real waste does. We did the best we could to simulate that waste but as soon as we started running the plant, it reacted differently to the actual waste,” Flohr explains.
After many tweaks, modifications and adjustments, the IWTC was finally ready to launch in April.
David Turk, deputy secretary of the DOE, addressing IWTU employees during Wednesday’s event. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
During Wednesday’s celebration, David Turk, the deputy secretary for the DOE, Gov. Brad Little and others joked about the project being behind schedule, but Flohr points out there isn’t an exact timeline for this project to be completed.
“The Department has decided that safety is absolutely priority, which is why we did not give the contractor a schedule prior to startup,” says Flohr. “Our job is to empty those tanks and treat this material, and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to take however long it’s going to take.”
Officials anticipate the project being complete sometime in the next three to seven years. Under the terms of the agreement, Idaho is supposed to dispose of the waste by 2035. It will ultimately be taken to a national geologic repository once a location has been identified.
RELATED | Spent nuclear fuel in dry storage ahead of schedule, to be used again
Little cites multiple cleanup projects in the last several years that were timely and were completed ahead of schedule. He encouraged the more than 300 workers in attendance to “keep their eye on the prize” as they move forward.
“What the team has done here has been remarkable,” Turk says. “We still have a lot more to do … but today’s event is a celebration of human achievement of all the problems solved and the 300 people working as a team to make significant progress for the community.”
RELATED | Officials celebrate cleanup of radioactive waste at INL complex
The post Over 68,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste have been treated 5 months after launch of Arco cleanup project appeared first on East Idaho News.