Weapons Complex Monitor Vol. 34 No. 15
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April 13, 2023

IWTU begins radioactive waste operations in Idaho

By Wayne Barber

After close to $1.5 billion spent, the long-anticipated Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the Idaho National Laboratory is treating radioactive waste, the Department of Energy said Tuesday.

Initially, the Integrated Waste Treatment United (IWTU) will treat a mix of 90% simulant and 10% sodium-bearing liquid waste from tanks at the laboratory’s Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, DOE said in a press release.

The IWTU should continue running with this 90/10 blend for about 45 days, DOE has said. Over time the radioactive waste portion of the blend will gradually increase to 50% and eventually becomes 100% sodium-bearing waste based.

“Congratulations to the federal and contractor staff who worked so diligently to reach this crucially important milestone,” DOE Office of Environmental Management senior adviser William (Ike) White, said in the Tuesday release. 

This first day of radioactive operations was a long time in coming.

Workers built the steam reforming plant from 2007 to 2011 to convert 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste to a granular solid, akin to coarse sand, DOE said. The IWTU was initially built by a team led by CH2M, now a Jacobs company, but did not work as anticipated.  

From 2012 to 2023, IWTU underwent a major overhaul. Testing with non-radioactive simulated waste, or simulant, began under contractor Fluor Idaho and then, starting in early 2022, the Jacobs-led Idaho Environmental Coalition. 

Over the years crews modified the plant’s primary reaction vessel, off-gas treatment vessel, process filters and canister fill cells, according to the DOE press release.

Over time the cost of the IWTU project mushroomed to $1.4 billion, a DOE spokesperson said by email Thursday.

From December 2006 through April 2012, DOE spent $571 million to develop the IWTU. As of February 2019, total project construction and reengineering expenditures had reached nearly $1 billion, the Government Accountability Office has reported

Connie Flohr, the DOE nuclear cleanup manager for Idaho, also thanked the workforce. “Because of your hard work, we have begun the process of safeguarding the Snake River Plain Aquifer as well as planning for the eventual closure of the tank farm,” she said. 

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