IWTU could start processing waste next spring

Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor Complex is seen on Thursday, June 14, 2018. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit is expected to start processing waste sometime next spring if everything goes right.

The IWTU was finished in 2011 and testing started there in 2012, but delays due to technical problems have meant that almost 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste that were supposed to be treated by 2012 haven’t been processed. The 2012 deadline is in the 1995 Settlement Agreement between the state of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Energy, and DOE’s noncompliance led Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to block a shipment of spent research fuel to Idaho National Laboratory in 2016.

DOE Idaho Project Manager Kevin O’Neill updated the Idaho Cleanup Project Citizens Advisory Board on Thursday as to the IWTU’s progress. He described some testing that is going on now in preparation for an upcoming “simulant,” or simulated waste, trial, and some delays they have run into as they gear up for the test run.

After that 30-day test is done, O’Neill said there would be another, 50-day trial. Both tests will likely be done around mid-October, O’Neill said, after which there would be a six-month outage to replace some filters and make improvements to the decontamination systems.

Then, O’Neill said, there would be a confirmatory simulant run, which could last less than a month, in April, after which the IWTU could start to process waste.

O’Neill stressed that they would have to proceed cautiously to make sure everything is working right.

“When you change something you can get some surprises and you’ve got to be ready to deal with them,” he said. “You can’t plow ahead.”

Using this timeline, the IWTU could start to process waste as soon as April. However Jack Zimmerman, deputy manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project, echoed O’Neill’s caution and declined to put a date to it when asked directly by advisory board Chairman Keith Branter.

“You can do the math if everything’s perfect, but I’m not going to,” Zimmerman said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.