Letters from the West

DEQ reaches agreement with Energy over Idaho lab violation

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that resolves violations of state hazardous waste laws for missing its deadline for emptying tanks of highly radioactive sodium bearing waste.

DEQ issued the notice of violation against the federal agency when it missed the Dec. 31 deadline for emptying underground storage tanks that don't meet current standards. The tanks contain 900,000 gallons of liquid sodium-bearing nuclear waste.

Under the terms of the agreement DOE will develop a new schedule by April 3 to permanently remove the tanks from service no later than Dec. 31, 2018, and pay a civil penalty of $648,000.

The deadline grew out of a consent order dating back to 1992 that had ordered the waste removed by 2012. DEQ extended the deadline to 2014.

DOE has built a plant to turn the waste into a solid at a cost of more than $500 million but it is undergoing testing.

If DOE fails to meet any deadline DEQ will require it to pay a penalty of $1,200 for each violation for each non-empty tank for each day in noncompliance rising to $2,000 for each violation in 180 days.

If DOE determines the treatment plant won’t work it agrees to pay $2 million.