Cold War-era nuclear waste is coming to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant from Idaho after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) approved more than 2,000 drums for disposal at the repository near Carlsbad.
The CBFO certified the waste to be compliant with the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement that requires nuclear waste be removed from the state.
The 2,237 drums of transuranic (TRU) waste was being stored at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), consisting of tools, rags, protective clothing, sludges and soils contaminated with radiation.
The waste has an atomic number higher than uranium, which is why it’s called “trans-uranic,” per a DOE report.
The CBFO worked in collaboration with the Idaho TRU waste team to ensure waste at INL met the criteria needed to be transported and accepted for disposal at WIPP, as the office does with multiple DOE sites across the country that send waste to WIPP.
When received at WIPP, drums of waste are emplaced in an underground salt deposit where the salt gradually collapses to permanently entomb the waste and block the radiation.
“The strengthened partnership between the Idaho and Carlsbad offices has helped focus both contractors on getting waste ready for certification and ultimately shipped out of Idaho,” said Connie Flohr, manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project.
“I appreciate the efforts of CBFO Manager Reinhard Knerr and his team to help us meet our site treatment plan milestones.”
The waste being shipped out of Idaho was mostly generated at the Rocky Flats Plant, a closed DOE site where nuclear weapons were built near Denver until 1989, along with waste from the Cold War generated at other sites and stored at INL.
The was drums were compacted in the AMWTP’s “supercompactor” using 4 million pounds of force to press the drums into 5-inch-thick “pucks” aimed at maximizing the waste volume of each shipment.
The amount of waste certified for shipment to WIPP was estimated to equal six shipments per week through February 2022.
The AMWTP shipped more than 58,000 cubic meters (m3) of Cold War-era waste to date, of the 65,000 m3 – the site’s entire inventory – required to be removed under the Settlement Agreement.
The agreement signed in 1995 between the State of Idaho, U.S. Navy and the DOE was in response to lawsuit filed by the state to limit the amount of nuclear waste shipped into Idaho for storage.
The amount of spent nuclear fuel was limited to 110 metric tons and required the DOE to report the volumes annually while excluding spent fuel from nuclear power plants.
The facility also assisted in waste treatment and shipment from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and the Nevada National Security Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Ed Gulbransen, TRU waste programs manager at Fluor Idaho, the INL clean up contractor, said shipping the waste out of Idaho would honor the DOE’s agreement with the people of the state.
“Everybody is happy this waste is moving forward,” he said. “It’s allowing us to keep the shipping pipeline to WIPP open and fulfill our commitments to the citizens of Idaho.”
As of July 24, the latest data from WIPP showed INL was the biggest shipper of waste to the repository with 6,577 shipments traveling about 9.2 million miles to the site in southeast New Mexico.
As of Wednesday, records show WIPP received six shipments from INL so far in July, along with three from Los Alamos National Laboratory and four from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Eighteen shipments came from INL in June and eight from Oak Ridge.
In May, WIPP received 11 shipments from INL, seven from Los Alamos and two from Oak Ridge.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.