Office of Environmental Management

Idaho Facility's Mission Nears End as Crews Treat Remaining Waste

September 10, 2019

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The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project is the collection of gray buildings near the bottom of the photo.
The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project is the collection of gray buildings near the bottom of the photo.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – The mission of EM’s Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) is coming to an end as workers are set to finish transuranic (TRU) waste treatment there this fall.

The successes of the TRU and low-level waste characterization, treatment, certification, and shipping facility operated by EM and cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho will be highlighted at the National Cleanup Workshop in Alexandria, Virginia this week.

The signature piece of equipment at the facility is the supercompactor, which applies four million pounds of force to each 55-gallon drum, reducing it to an approximately 5-inch-thick “puck.” The supercompactor has compacted more than 250,000 55-gallon drums of TRU waste debris during its 16 years of operation.

Using compaction, AMWTP has saved more than 6,000 truck shipments that would have been required to send the waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico for permanent disposal. Furthermore, supercompaction has led to more efficient and effective use of available disposal space at WIPP.

“Compacting drums allowed for a greater return on investment for each waste shipment sent from Idaho to WIPP,” said Jack Zimmerman, manager of the DOE Idaho Operations Office EM program. "The supercompactor has paid for itself many times over considering the valuable space it has saved at WIPP and the number of truck shipments it has saved the taxpayer."

Workers began constructing AMWTP in the late 1990s. The purpose of the facility was to retrieve 65,000 cubic meters of TRU and mixed low-level waste that had been stored on an asphalt pad and covered with soil from 1970 through the 1980s.

The supercompactor applies over 4 million pounds of pressure to waste drums, reducing the height of each drum to approximately one-fifth its original size, or 5 inches.
The supercompactor applies over 4 million pounds of pressure to waste drums, reducing the height of each drum to approximately one-fifth its original size, or 5 inches.

From its inception, AMWTP was designed to be a “one-stop shop,” handling all facets of waste disposition in a variety of buildings with highly specialized, remotely operated equipment and automated processes.

“AMWTP has some of the most dedicated and skilled employees you’ll find in the entire DOE complex,” Fluor Idaho Program Manager Fred Hughes said. “Many of our employees have spent their entire careers at the facility. Their skill and expertise are the reasons the project has been so successful.”

Innovation has been a hallmark of the project from the beginning. AMWTP employees created many inventive processes and specialized tools for use at the facility, including parts for robotic arms, improved protective equipment for workers, and unique handling tools for degraded waste containers being retrieved.

Over the years, AMWTP has adjusted to treating extremely challenging waste types, such as high-fissile materials. Crews at the facility recently completed sizing large waste boxes in enclosures designed to capture extremely fine, “flighty” plutonium-238 in AMWTP’s high-efficiency particulate air filters.

Just 140 cubic meters of TRU waste debris remains to be treated at AMWTP’s treatment facility. Fluor Idaho estimates that its treatment mission will be complete by October this year. Shipping the treated material offsite for permanent disposal will continue for approximately the next 10 years.

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