IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – It’s been 25 years since EM, the state of Idaho, and U.S. Navy signed a landmark agreement providing timelines for offsite transuranic waste shipments, the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage, and the treatment and shipment of high-level radioactive wastes.
In two and a half decades, EM has met more than 90% of milestones outlined in the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement on or ahead of schedule. In other instances, EM and the state have renegotiated milestones.
“The Idaho Settlement Agreement has been extremely beneficial to the Department, the state of Idaho, and our stakeholders in that it provided the vision to safely disposition legacy wastes and spent nuclear fuel,” EM Idaho Cleanup Project Manager Connie Flohr said. “We’ve made monumental progress in meeting our commitments, which in turn has paved the way for a long and meaningful nuclear energy mission in Idaho.”
Key to the agreement is the milestone to ship offsite 65,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste that was sent to the site for aboveground storage from the former Rocky Flats Plant and other offsite generators from 1970 until the late 1980s.
EM and cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho retrieved the last of that waste in 2017 and completed the treatment of transuranic waste debris last fall. To date, more than 60,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste has been shipped out of Idaho for permanent disposal. Based on a projected shipping schedule from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, the remaining transuranic waste will leave Idaho in the next decade.
In 2008, a record of decision was signed that incorporated two milestones into the agreement focused on exhuming, repackaging, and shipping targeted buried radioactive and hazardous waste sent to Idaho from 1954 to 1970. EM met one of the milestones after exhuming a minimum of 7,485 cubic meters of waste. EM is set to reach the second milestone next year after completing remediation of a combined 5.69 acres of a landfill containing buried waste.
Another critical milestone of the agreement is the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from a water-filled basin to dry storage by 2023. Two types of fuel remain in wet storage, and the basin is now 95% empty. The final disposition path for the remaining spent nuclear fuel is contingent upon the opening of a geologic waste repository or interim storage location.
EM continues progress on the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, which will convert approximately 900,000 gallons of liquid sodium-bearing waste to a granular solid. The waste was generated during historic spent nuclear fuel reprocessing campaigns that ended in 1992. EM soon is scheduled to launch a final 50-day demonstration at the facility using a simulant. That demonstration will take place after facility modifications are completed this year, as the facility nears startup of operations.
Under the agreement, EM is required to retrieve, treat, repackage, and prepare 4,400 cubic meters of a granulated high-level radioactive waste called calcine to ship for out-of-state disposal by 2035. Crews are testing technologies to enter a bin set to retrieve 220 cubic meters of the waste and transfer it to another bin set. Once emptied, the first bin set would be closed under federal regulations. The bins are a series of long cylinders, and the number of bins in each set varies.
“While there is still much work to do, I’m proud of what’s been accomplished in Idaho over the last 25 years,” said Flohr. “I appreciate the dedication of all employees involved in this effort as well as the support of our stakeholders, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the congressional delegation, and the state of Idaho.”