After a suspension of several months, Fluor Idaho is again excavating a tranche of Cold War waste at the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory.
The Idaho Cleanup Project contractor suspended the work in the lab’s Accelerated Retrieval Project 8 space following an April 11 breach of four drums at the close-by Accelerated Retrieval Project 5 site. Following a safety review of the waste exhumation, Fluor Idaho implemented more safety controls, which include thermal monitoring and raking the old sludge waste before repackaging.
The material being unearthed was shipped to INL from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver from the 1950s through 1970, the company said. Generated by weapons development at Rocky Flats, the waste was placed in drums and sent to Idaho for buried disposal.
Idaho, the Energy Department, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached agreement in 2008 for DOE to clean up about 6 acres of buried sludge material including uranium, plutonium, and solidified solvents. After being repackaged at Idaho, the material is ultimately shipped as transuranic waste to DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
Fluor Idaho has yet to determine the cause of the Aprill 11 incident, in which the 55-gallon drums of radioactive sludge overheated and ejected their lids, causing waste to spill onto the floor and walls of the room they were located. Fluor Idaho has told state officials it expects to issue its investigative report in November.
Fluor Idaho has a five-year, $1.4 billion contract for cleanup operations at the lab.