The United States will give new experience to the Idaho nuclear waste plant

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -Problems plaguing a nuclear waste reprocessing plant in eastern Idaho appear to be being resolved, U.S. officials said Thursday, and converting high-level liquid waste into safer, easier-to-manage solid materials may begin early next year.

The US Department of Energy’s Joel Case said a waste-free test launch will begin next week at the Department of Energy’s 890-square-mile (2,305-square-kilometer) Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, which includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

“I am very confident that we can solve the real problems in the process,” he said during a meeting of the Idaho Cleaning Citizens Advisory Council, but noted that the plant has not been in operation for several years, so there may be problems . now for long operations. “

900,000 gallons (3.5 million liters) of sodium, radioactive waste come from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to recover highly enriched uranium. The waste is in reservoirs above a giant aquifer that supplies water to cities and farms in the region.


Waste has been a sore spot between Idaho and the Department of Energy for years, Case said, and the federal agency pays $ 6,000 in fines a day for missing a deadline to transform liquid waste into solid material, as stipulated in a 1995 agreement culminating in a series of federal lawsuits.

Idaho, due to the missed deadline for 2013, is preventing the Department of Energy from introducing scientific quantities of spent nuclear fuel to be tested in the laboratory. Scientists say spent fuel is needed to develop new technologies for the next wave of nuclear reactors as part of a US strategy to expand nuclear energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The ban could also damage the laboratory’s status as one of the best nuclear research laboratories in the country, Energy Ministry officials said. In addition, the lab is one of the largest employers in the state and a huge economic engine, especially in eastern Idaho.

But Idaho officials fear they will repeal that part of the agreement, which is generally seen as preventing Idaho from becoming a high-level national nuclear waste dump.

In 2019, Republican Gov. Brad Little and Republican Attorney General Lawrence Wadden received a conditional waiver of the agreement, which allows the Department of Energy to import spent nuclear fuel into the state if the agency proves that the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit can recycle liquid waste.

That could happen next year if all goes according to plan in the treatment plan, Case said. The scientists initially planned to use a simulator instead of liquid waste, then mixed 10% waste containing sodium. If this goes well, the waste will be increased to 50% and then 100%. It is said that once the plant reaches the routine operations expected next year, it will take about five years to treat all liquid waste.

“It’s been a long journey,” Case said.

The solid waste will be placed in stainless steel containers, each with a capacity of about 35 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) and will be stored on site. The containers will be stored in groups of 16 people in concrete vaults. The site can store 745 boxes, Case said, but estimates show the waste can fill more than 1,000 containers. Case said that could mean building more storage space.

Another possibility, officials said, is trying to reclassify solid waste into transuranic waste, which would allow it to be sent to a pilot waste isolation plant in New Mexico.

“It’s (classified) high-level waste because of where it came from, but if you look at it in terms of its actual content, it could be something else,” said Connie Flor, Idaho’s cleaning project manager.

The construction of the Integrated Waste Treatment Department costs more than $ 500 million. Officials on Thursday did not announce an updated price, which included delays or additional work to trigger the plant.

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