IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Multiple winter storms gripping the Rocky Mountains created a perfect storm of sorts at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site recently as several trucks and tractor-trailers used for waste shipments were idled for days until conditions were safe to transport transuranic (TRU) waste.
Subzero temperatures, high winds and road closures during the weeks leading up to and after Christmas along the route from Idaho to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico stalled an otherwise continual, prescribed process that has been mostly uninterrupted for two decades.
EM contractor Idaho Environmental Coalition (IEC) transported drivers to local hotels, while storing their trucks, trailers and shipping casks at the INL Site’s Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC), where TRU waste shipments are prepared for transport to WIPP.
Between periods of inclement weather and when road conditions improved, multiple convoys of trucks left the RWMC carrying TRU waste stored at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project for decades. Eleven trucks left on Dec. 16 and safely arrived at WIPP after another short pause at a safe harbor to allow roads to open along the transport path. Another 11 departed over two separate days of the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day and nine trucks left on Jan. 5.
“Eastern Idaho and Wyoming are no strangers to adverse winter weather,” said IEC Senior Director of Waste and Decontamination and Demolition Dan Coyne. “Regardless of the weather, the closure of RWMC is predicated on disposition of waste, therefore the safe transport of TRU and low-level radioactive waste continues year-round.”
All hands were on deck at the RWMC to prepare the many trucks for their departure. EM crews inspected and loaded approximately 90 shipping casks with waste containers, conducted leak testing, shuttled the trailers, and turned each truck and shipment over to the Idaho State Police (ISP) for final inspection at the RWMC. The ISP inspection is so detailed that even a faulty turn signal bulb can delay a shipment.
“I can’t thank our team, the WIPP-based drivers and the ISP enough,” said Coyne. “Everyone performed flawlessly in very challenging conditions, in some cases sacrificing all or some of their curtailment period. We look forward to returning to relatively normal operations as long as the weather cooperates.”
As trucks were leaving Idaho, a bomb cyclone was hammering the California coast with record rainfall amounts while the front was moving in a northeastern direction toward southern and eastern Idaho. A heavy, wet fog hung over the RWMC as the last trucks departed for WIPP. A bomb cyclone is a mid-latitude storm whose central air pressure falls at a rate of one millibar per hour for at least 24 hours.
“Working closely with WIPP we are prepared to evaluate the next set of challenging weather obstacles while keeping the safety of the driver teams, our workers, the public and the environment in the forefront,” said Coyne.
Last year, the INL Site sent 150 shipments of TRU waste to WIPP, which accounted for just over 55% of all shipments received at the repository in 2022. IEC also completed 89 offsite shipments of low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste for treatment and permanent disposal at other federal and commercial repositories.
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