Office of Environmental Management

Idaho Facility’s Distinctiveness Stands Test of Time

October 15, 2019

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A view of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project buildings, foreground, and the Accelerated Retrieval Project, background.
A view of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project buildings, foreground, and the Accelerated Retrieval Project, background.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) has maintained its uniqueness since the mid-1990s, when it was envisioned: one facility capable of retrieving, characterizing, treating, certifying, and shipping transuranic (TRU) waste.

AMWTP was built by BNFL Inc. to disposition 65,000 cubic meters of above-ground transuranic and low-level wastes sent to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site from the former Rocky Flats Plant near Denver from 1970 through the 1980s. It was modeled after a treatment facility in Sellafield, U.K., that used automated processes — including a drum-crushing supercompactor similar to the one at AMWTP — to disposition wastes.

EM is scheduled to complete its TRU waste debris treatment mission at AMWTP this fall. The facility will then close in phases under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act while continuing to ship TRU waste to EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the next decade.

“It’s been my distinct pleasure to be part of this effort and to work with such talented employees who have been so committed to removing this waste from the state of Idaho,” said Bryan Breffle, a director at Fluor Idaho, EM’s INL Site cleanup contractor. “I have mixed emotions about it. It’s extremely fulfilling to complete our waste treatment mission, but at the same time, I will miss the people and the facility where such great work took place.”

A view of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project buildings, foreground, and the Accelerated Retrieval Project, background.
The supercompactor, above, and its hydraulic ram, at left, apply more than 4 million pounds of pressure to 55-gallon waste drums to create five-inch-thick “pucks” that are loaded into overpack drums in preparation for off-site disposal.
The supercompactor, above, and its hydraulic ram, at left, apply more than 4 million pounds of pressure to 55-gallon waste drums to create five-inch-thick “pucks” that are loaded into overpack drums in preparation for off-site disposal.

The workhorse of the facility — the supercompactor — will crush its last drum of TRU waste debris in coming weeks. During the past 16 years, the hydraulic ram exerted 4 million pounds of force, crushing more than 250,000 55-gallon drums, converting them into 5-inch-thick “pucks.” Those pucks are placed in drums, loaded into transport casks, and sent by truck to WIPP. Super-compacting the drums has saved more than 6,000 truck shipments that would have been required to send the waste to the permanent disposal facility.

“We couldn’t have been so successful without the supercompactor,” said Breffle. “While the U.K. version would crush 40 drums in a given month, our supercompactor often crushed more than 40 drums in a single day. Many AMWTP employees will be quite emotional when they see the last drum get crushed.”

Following the closure of AMWTP’s Treatment Facility, many Fluor Idaho employees who work there will be transferred to other cleanup projects at the INL Site or will remain at the Treatment Facility to assist with closure. Some employees will leave Fluor Idaho to work on other projects at the INL Site.

“Many of our employees spent their entire careers at the AMWTP facility,” said Breffle. “They developed unique skills that can be applied to other nuclear-related work and I’m happy many will stay in Idaho to support work here.”

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