Guest Opinions

New DOE cleanup contractor promises safety and progress

Fred Hughes
Fred Hughes

Looking back fondly at my 40-year career, one of the most memorable experiences was my time at the Department of Energy’s Idaho site and the people I worked with. Returning after 13 years, I’m impressed not only with the visible cleanup progress that’s been achieved, but the emphasis and true adherence to the safety culture that’s been established and embraced by the 1,700 employees that currently make up the Idaho Cleanup Project.

On June 1, Fluor Idaho LLC took over as the Idaho Cleanup Project contractor. Since then, as we press forward to reach our project goals, we have taken seriously the need to tap into the expertise of our workforce and add the necessary resources that will help the Department of Energy clean up and safely complete the project.

As we strive toward a successful completion, we understand the cleanup will serve a very important purpose.

That purpose is to ensure the protection of our workers, the public, the environment, and one of Idaho’s most important resources — the Snake River Plain Aquifer. To date, more than 600 million gallons of groundwater from the aquifer have been properly treated, and 244,000 pounds of solvent vapors from underneath the buried waste have been removed — that’s more than 330 barrels of solvents that were prevented from reaching the aquifer. This is in addition to shipping nearly 55,000 cubic meters of above-ground waste out of Idaho, demolishing 225 facilities and structures, remediating 137 waste sites and suspect sites, and exhuming over 73 percent of the targeted buried waste area.

The site’s cleanup track record has been exemplary, and we want to continue to establish and strengthen the public trust by providing a safe and efficient work site. We understand more work remains as we build on these previous successes.

To do that, Fluor Idaho has enlisted the help of some of the top experts and resources in the world to assist in getting the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit ready to treat the remaining 900,000 gallons of liquid waste at the Idaho site. As always, these operations will be conducted in a safe and expeditious manner.

We will also continue to retrieve and repackage transuranic waste in preparation for the reopening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, with 161 remotely handled and 4,260 contact-handled drums ready to ship. And under our new contract, we will be responsible for activities that include the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel at the Idaho site, retrieval of targeted buried waste, and the operation of various facility infrastructure.

Continuing the safe and efficient cleanup of the Idaho site is a key goal for us as we know our success enables the Idaho National Laboratory to complete its important missions for our country and the world. Fluor Idaho will put the safety of our employees, the public, and environment first — always.

It’s exciting to be back in Idaho. It’s great to be part of a team of exceptional employees that are and will accomplish tremendous things for Idaho while ensuring a strong legacy is left behind for our children and grandchildren.

Fred Hughes has 39 years of project management and nuclear operations experience associated with fuel removal, waste management, environmental remediation, and nuclear facility decontamination and decommissioning.