Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter congratulated Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project workers Thursday for the completion of a process underway since 2003.
Last week, contractor Fluor Idaho retrieved the last box of radioactive materials that had been stored for decades under a dirt berm at the Transuranic Storage Area-Retrieval Enclosure.
Otter, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and other state dignitaries visited the facility Thursday to commemorate the milestone.
“There was never a doubt that we could do it; the only question was nobody knew how the hell we were going to do it. And you all figured that out,” Otter said to an audience that largely consisted of U.S. Department of Energy and Fluor employees. “You set a standard for the United States — for the world.”
Sixty-five thousand cubic meters of transuranic waste was stored in hundreds of thousands of containers — wooden boxes and metal drums in varying states of degradation — in a seven-acre hangar-like storage building at the AMWTP facility. The storage building was built around a 35-foot tall earthen berm deployed years before to protect the containers.
The transuranic waste, including contaminated tools, machinery, clothing and sludge, came to Idaho in the ’70s and ’80s mostly from the now-closed Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, which was used to build nuclear weapon parts.
Though containers near the top of the waste stacks were in relatively good shape when excavation began, boxes and drums near the bottom of the pile were not structurally sound, and required special tools to retrieve.
Now, recently retrieved waste awaits treatment at AMWTP.
Transuranic waste containers will be opened, and their contents sorted and compacted before being placed in new containers for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
A waste drum explosion caused WIPP to temporarily close in 2014, which halted incoming waste shipments.
Though shipments will resume in the spring, Fluor and DOE will likely miss a Dec. 31, 2018 state-mandated deadline to remove the final portion of the 65,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste from Idaho.
More than 900 shipments of treated waste are currently stored in Idaho, but WIPP plans to accept only five shipments per week from waste generator sites.
Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.