IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Following its eventual closure, the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) will leave behind a legacy of being a successful waste treatment facility that was well conceived, built, and executed.
Construction of the plant began in the late 1990s, and crews safely finished building it in late December 2002, three days ahead of the completion date required under the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement. AMWTP went on to meet several additional milestones under the agreement with the state of Idaho.
Safety has been a hallmark of the project, as the plant’s workers surpassed more than 16 million hours without a lost-time injury. They are nearing completion in the mission to retrieve, characterize, treat, certify, and ship for disposal 65,000 cubic meters of transuranic and low-level waste that had been stored on an asphalt pad at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site since 1970.
Some of that waste presented unique challenges, such as the large size of containers, the high concentrations of radionuclides, and the potentially reactive properties of the materials. Crews have safely treated all of that challenging waste in recent years.
In each case of challenging waste forms, AMWTP employees developed technologies, processes, and worker-protection measures to safely and compliantly treat the waste.
“AMWTP workers continually developed new technologies to address challenges at the project,” EM Idaho Manager Jack Zimmerman said. “Many of these technologies have been deployed at other DOE facilities across the complex. Thus, in some instances, AMWTP workers have been able to solve a complex-wide problem.”
For example, the radiological protection, safety, and engineering divisions at Fluor Idaho, EM’s INL Site cleanup contractor, collaborated with a vendor to improve supplied breathing-air suits, also known as "bubble suits." They made those suits safer by adding reinforcements, and cooler by improving their air flow.
“If there’s one takeaway from the 16-plus years of active operating experience at the AMWTP that others could benefit from, it’s the need to be adaptable, to expect the unexpected, and work with employees to mitigate challenges,” Fluor Idaho President Fred Hughes said. “Being flexible, implementing employee ideas, and modifying processes and equipment, when necessary, made the difference down the stretch.”
In another example, employees at the AMWTP Treatment Facility added a new, more powerful robotic arm than the older one they had used to open waste containers, reduce the size of difficult waste forms, and sort and package the waste in 55-gallon drums for compaction in the supercompactor.
“Other DOE facilities that will require the construction of a similar waste treatment facility should examine the conception-to-closure history of the AMWTP,” Hughes said. “It was the experienced talent of the workforce and their innovations that were required to treat all wastes regardless of their complexity.”