Office of Environmental Management

EM’s Idaho Site Marks 25 Years of Cleanup Success

January 17, 2017

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Using an onsite lined landfill to dispose of cleanup debris at the Idaho Site has saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the cost of shipping the material offsite for disposal.

Using an onsite lined landfill to dispose of cleanup debris at the Idaho Site has saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the cost of shipping the material offsite for disposal.

Workers exhume buried transuranic waste from Pit 9.

Workers exhume buried transuranic waste from Pit 9.

Longtime cleanup employee Kirk Dooley, far right.

Longtime cleanup employee Kirk Dooley, far right.

IDAHO FALLS, IdahoDOE has successfully cleaned up the Idaho Site’s legacy waste for the last 25 years, protecting the primary drinking and irrigation water source for more than 300,000 Idahoans in compliance with an agreement with the state.

   DOE, Idaho and the state’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order in 1991. It outlines a plan to investigate and clean up to 500 waste areas within the 890-square-mile site, most of which is complete. The waste came from nuclear reactor research and decades-old waste disposal and defense missions. The sites consist of unlined wastewater disposal ponds; debris piles; radioactive groundwater plumes; buried barrels and boxes of radioactive waste; and unexploded ordnance. 

   DOE’s Idaho Site cleanup contractors have met 981 milestones in the agreement on or ahead of schedule. Crews are two years ahead of schedule in a project that has removed more than 7,700 cubic meters (or nearly 37,000 drums) of waste from an unlined Cold War landfill. High-pressure pumps are removing solvent vapors beneath it. Workers removed and destroyed nearly 246,000 pounds (equivalent to 336 55-gallon drums) of solvent vapors through catalytic oxidation units.

   Fifteen of the milestones have proven more challenging than the others, resulting in delays. EM completed, renegotiated or rescheduled 14 of those. The remaining outstanding milestone deals with treating 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste in three underground storage tanks. The site’s current cleanup contractor, Fluor Idaho, LLC, has a four-phase approach to safely and efficiently start up the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, a facility to treat the waste. The contractor is redesigning equipment and resolving a chemistry challenge in the facility’s primary reaction vessel.

   Kirk Dooley, a remediation manager and engineer, has seen significant progress in his 26 years working with the cleanup program. 

   “The biggest change that I have seen over the years is the cultural change,” he said. “It’s no longer just a job but employees take pride in doing their job well and doing it safe.”

   Dooley said many innovations have made the cleanup safer and more efficient. 

   “Several patents were awarded for treating and monitoring contaminants, and treating sodium and groundwater,” he said. “We’ve also developed better methods for retrieving buried contaminated waste, treating the material, and then repackaging it. All of these things have contributed greatly to the successful cleanup of the site.”

   EM is treating an aquifer at the site’s north end. Workers have treated more than 600 million gallons of water there. They’ve used a pump-and-treat system and bioremediation, in which a food-grade whey is injected into the aquifer near a contaminant plume to encourage microorganisms to feed on waste.

   Construction of a 510,000-cubic-foot landfill in the early 2000s allowed DOE to consolidate waste from many areas of the site into a single, managed location with impermeable liners, a leachate collection system and lined disposal ponds. Disposing of the waste onsite saves hundreds of millions of dollars over the cost of disposing of the material out of state.