Idaho National Laboratory

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On Thursday, August 25, 2011, Idaho CERCLA Disposal Facility (ICDF) employees and Nick Lombardo, president of S.M. Stoller Corporation, celebrated four years without a recordable injury

On Thursday, August 25, 2011, Idaho CERCLA Disposal Facility (ICDF) employees and Nick Lombardo, president of S.M. Stoller Corporation, celebrated four years without a recordable injury

Workers install fabric inside the Accelerated Retrieval Project IV retrieval enclosure. Retrieval enclosures are designed to withstand sunlight, snow and wind and maintain a negative pressure inside

Workers install fabric inside the Accelerated Retrieval Project IV retrieval enclosure. Retrieval enclosures are designed to withstand sunlight, snow and wind and maintain a negative pressure inside

In 1943, the Navy withdrew 271 square miles from the public domain and built the Naval Proving Ground, to proof fire World War II Pacific Fleet guns being rebuilt at the Naval Ordnance Plant in the nearby (65 miles south) city of Pocatello.  The proofing of guns commenced in November of 1943, and continued into the 1970's.  Over 1,600 gun barrels were fired at the Proving Ground.

In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission selected an area that encompassed the old Naval Proving Ground and surrounding lands to build the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS), whose mission was to develop and demonstrate peaceful uses of nuclear power. On December 20, 1951 four light bulbs were lit using electricity generated from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I.  Not only was the reactor the first to go critical at the NRTS, but it was also the first reactor in the world to generate a useable amount of electrical power, forever linking atomic power and the Idaho Site.

Over the years, 52 nuclear reactors were built on the site to demonstrate various reactor concepts, and to test materials for commercial and military reactors. Today, three reactors are still in operation at the Idaho Site.

The name of the facility changed over the years: in 1974, it was named the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, to encompass broader research missions; in 1997 it became the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, to reflect growing cleanup and waste management missions and research; in 2005, the INEEL became the Idaho National Laboratory, which is under the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy. The environmental cleanup work was awarded as two separate contracts, the Idaho Cleanup Project, and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, both of which are under the DOE Office of Environmental Management.

The Department of Energy's Idaho Site is an 890 square mile federal reserve, situated in the Arco Desert over the Snake River Plain Aquifer.  To date, less than ten percent of the site has been disturbed. 

The Idaho Cleanup Project (ICP) involves the safe environmental cleanup of the Idaho site, contaminated with legacy wastes generated from World War II-era conventional weapons testing, government-owned research and defense reactors, spent nuclear fuel reprocessing, laboratory research, and defense missions at other DOE sites.  The project focuses on reducing risks to workers, the public, and the environment, and protecting the Snake River Plain Aquifer, a sole source aquifer that sustains Idaho's agricultural base.

Established in the 1950s, the Idaho Nuclear Technology Engineering and Center, formerly known as the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, recovered usable uranium from spent fuel generated in government reactors. Over the years, the facility recovered more than $1 billion worth of highly enriched uranium, which was returned to the government fuel cycle. 

During the 1980s the facility underwent an ambitious modernization when safer, cleaner, and more efficient structures were built to replace most major facilities. In 1992, the Department of Energy announced that the changing world political situation and the lack of demand for highly enriched uranium made reprocessing no longer necessary.  The plant was renamed the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center in 1998.  Today, the cleanup work at INTEC is focused on protection of the Snake River Plain Aquifer.

In 1999, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Idaho selected the Idaho CERCLA Disposal Facility in a CERCLA Record of

Decision to address environmental cleanup work being done at the Idaho Site. The RCRA licensable disposal facility consists of a 510,000 cubic yard landfill, lined evaporation ponds, and treatment, storage and administrative facilities. It is designed to safely contain contaminated soil and debris from any CERCLA cleanup on the Idaho Site's 890 square miles.

The design greatly reduces risk for contaminant migration to the aquifer, as well as the spread of windblown contamination.  Safety features of the landfill include a multiple-layer liner system that incorporates several feet of natural and synthetic materials, including a layer of compacted clay.  A collection and removal system is built into the liner system of the facility to detect and remove liquids that may leach from material disposed of in the facility. These liquids are pumped into a multi-layer lined evaporation pond system at the site. The design of the ICDF, which includes a strict set of criteria on what types of waste can be disposed of in the facility, was developed with the agreement of the EPA and the state of Idaho.

The IWTU has been constructed to treat 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing waste currently stored in underground tanks at the INTEC high level waste tank farm. Completed in April 2012, the IWTU covers an area of 53,000 square feet.

The IWTU uses the THOR® steam-reforming technology developed by Thor Treatment Technologies to treat waste that is primarily concentrated wash solution resulting from the decontamination of the high level waste tanks. The patented fluidized bed process uses a thermal source to heat both liquid radioactive and hazardous constituents, converting them into a stable solid granular waste form. The solid waste will be placed in canisters and stored awaiting disposal. The IWTU is the first site to use two fluidized beds in a row.

The sodium bearing waste is the only remaining liquid waste stored at the INTEC high level waste tank farm.  The waste is stored in three of the four remaining tanks.

The uranium recovery effort produced 9 million gallons of liquid high-level waste which was stored in the eleven 300,000-gallon stainless steel tanks at the INTEC high level waste tank farm.  The high-level waste was eventually turned in to 4,400 cubic meters of calcine, the product of an innovative high-level liquid waste treatment process developed at the plant. Calcination reduced the volume of liquid radioactive waste generated during reprocessing and placed it in a more stable granular solid form. The high-level waste calcine is a waste form unique to the Idaho Site, the site has 4,400 m3 of calcine stored in 43 stainless steel bins, within 6 concrete bin sets.

Eleven of the 15 high level waste tanks, as well as the system of lines and risers that connected the tanks to the fuel processing facilities, have been emptied and grouted.  The Idaho Settlement Agreement includes a December 31, 2012 milestone to empty all liquid waste from the high level waste tanks located at the High Level Waste Tank Farm. RCRA closure of the entire INTEC tank farm will occur when the sodium bearing waste in the remaining tanks is removed.

The Idaho Site manages 220 types of spent nuclear fuel representing the history of Navy and commercial nuclear power development.  The Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Complex has five storage configurations including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed Three Mile Island Unit 2 Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation.  The Idaho Site was also given responsibility for an NRC licensed storage facility in Fort St. Vrain, Colorado.  The Idaho Site continues to receive domestic and foreign research reactor spent fuel, as outlined in the Idaho Settlement Agreement. The fuel is put in to dry storage.

The purpose of the D&D project is to safely disposition surplus INL facilities.  Since June 2005, the project has demolished 220 facilities for a total footprint reduction of over 1.7 million square feet.  The project has disposed of three nuclear reactor vessels in the Idaho CERCLA Disposal Facility.  The project has successfully demolished fuel storage pools, hot cells and hot shops, a fuel reprocessing plant, numerous above- and below-ground tanks, warehouses, and waste storage buildings.  Current work includes the Accelerated Retrieval Project facilities at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

The Remote-Handled Transuranic Waste (RH-TRU) Program repackages and ships RH-TRU waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  The Idaho Cleanup Project made the first shipment of RH-TRU from Idaho to WIPP on January 23, 2007; to date, the ICP has completed a total of 260 shipments of RH-TRU.  The Idaho Settlement Agreement requires the removal of all legacy TRU waste from Idaho by December 31, 2018.  To assure compliance with this milestone, beginning in 2013, the ICP will become the major shipper of RH-TRU to WIPP for the DOE complex.  Approximately 400 additional shipments of RH-TRU are planned to be sent to WIPP from Idaho through 2018.  These shipments will include waste which was generated by both the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy.

Since the 1950s, the Department of Energy has used the RWMC to manage, store, and dispose of radioactive waste generated by national defense and research programs.

The Subsurface Disposal Area (SDA) is a 97-acre radioactive waste landfill that is the major focus for remedial decisions at the RWMC. Approximately 35 of the 97 acres contain waste from historical operations, including weapons production and reactor research. This waste includes radioactive elements, organic solvents, acids, nitrates, and metals. Organic solvents are now found in the aquifer beneath the SDA. Most of the waste that would be considered transuranic by today's standards was received from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado prior to 1970 and buried at the SDA.  Disposal of transuranic waste was discontinued in 1970 in favor of retrievable storage.

In July of 2008 DOE resolved the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement buried waste litigation with the state of Idaho, and concurrently signed a CERCLA Record of Decision in September 2008 that included remediation of targeted waste buried in the SDA. 

The Accelerated Retrieval Project (ARP), located at the Subsurface Disposal Area, identifies, exhumes, and prepares targeted waste for characterization and shipment out of Idaho to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.  The Idaho Site's ability to exhume buried waste from the SDA was first demonstrated in 2004.  Non-time critical removal actions to retrieve buried waste began in 2005, and are currently ongoing.  To date, buried waste exhumations have occurred in six retrieval areas, with the exhumations currently on going in the seventh area.  The eighth retrieval enclosure is currently under construction (ARP-VIII). A total of nine retrieval enclosures will be constructed and operated to remove targeted waste from the SDA. 

The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, which is operated by the Idaho Treatment Group, involves the safe retrieval, characterization, treatment and packaging of transuranic waste for shipment out of Idaho to permanent disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.  The project was designed and constructed to meet the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement milestone to ship 65,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste out of Idaho by December 31, 2018. 

The vast majority of the waste AMWTP processes resulted from the manufacture of nuclear components at Colorado's Rocky Flats Plant. Shipped to Idaho in the 1970s and early 1980s for storage, the waste contains industrial debris such as rags, work clothing, machine parts and tools, as well as soil and sludge, and is contaminated with transuranic radioactive elements (primarily plutonium). Most of the waste is "mixed waste" -- contaminated with radioactive and non-radioactive hazardous chemicals such as oil and solvents.

Idaho Site Cleanup By the Numbers