Idahoans should be proud of the Department of Energy Idaho site’s cleanup success because of the continued focus to protect people and the environment. The DOE and its cleanup contractors, including Fluor Idaho, have amassed an impressive record since the signing of a 1991 agreement between the federal government and the state of Idaho. The Idaho Legislature recently passed House Joint Memorial 3 to recognize the 25th anniversary of this agreement and to celebrate the cleanup program’s accomplishments.
To put this success into perspective, imagine an airline with a record of 981 on-time arrivals and just 15 delays in a 25-year span. That 98.5 percent success rate represents our track record of meeting our overall cleanup commitments.
Cleanup of the nation’s radioactive waste is extremely challenging. I have worked alongside talented engineers and scientists who are helping the Idaho site resolve its challenges, and with a very talented workforce that implements these solutions.
Fluor Idaho employees safely retrieved the last waste container of stored transuranic waste on Feb. 21, 2017. The achievement was the culmination of 13.5 years of singular focus and innovative progress, safely retrieving 65,000 cubic meters of the waste required under the Settlement Agreement. Each person is proud of their involvement in completing this commitment to the citizens of Idaho.
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Crews have also removed more than 7,900 cubic meters of waste from Pit 9 and other disposal areas as part of a larger project that is two years ahead of schedule.
Currently, much attention is on the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU), constructed to treat 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste. After DOE missed a previous startup milestone, Fluor Idaho was tasked with getting it operational as part of its new contract. We implemented a four-phase, systematic approach to resolve the facility’s mechanical and operational challenges, finishing Phase 1 in October 2016. We’ve involved some of the country’s foremost scientists and engineers to overcome these challenges. We have redesigned equipment and continue to improve the treatment process. The plant will conduct three demonstration tests as part of Phase 2.
The liquid waste is safely stored in three stainless steel tanks, housed within concrete vaults. The tanks are closely monitored and have never leaked. The aquifer remains protected and we are pushing forward to solve our latest challenge so that stable, compliant operations will successfully treat this radioactive material safely and reliably.
Milestones are important to us, and as members of surrounding communities, protecting the aquifer is vitally important to us. I’m confident the remaining challenges within the cleanup program are solvable. As in the past, we’ll continue to utilize our scientific, engineering and operational talents to safely deliver the cleanup mission for DOE’s Idaho site while protecting the aquifer.
Fred Hughes is the Fluor Idaho program manager and has 39 years of project management and nuclear operations experience associated with fuel removal, waste management, environmental remediation, and nuclear facility decontamination and decommissioning.