DOE unveils plan to guide cleanup at INL’s desert site

Workers at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project prepare to retrieve a box containing radioactive waste in this 2012 file photo. On Wednesday, the Department of Energy unveiled a new “master acquisition plan” for management of radioactive waste when the contracts for waste clean-up at Idaho National Laboratory’s desert site expire in fall 2015. Post Register file / Monte LaOrange

The Department of Energy unveiled its “master acquisition plan” Wednesday for management of radioactive waste when the contracts for waste clean-up at Idaho National Laboratory’s desert site expire in fall 2015.

While the 2015 plan will continue work “currently being performed under the Idaho Cleanup Project and Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project,” according to a DOE news release, it apparently will change the way that work is conducted.

The change is part of an overall “procurement strategy … to award four separate contracts to cover the major elements of post fiscal year 2015 environmental management mission work,” the news release said.

Today, that work is performed under two contracts.

CH2M-WG Idaho LLC, also known as CWI, employs about 1,100 people and has managed the Idaho Cleanup Project since 2005. Its mission is to clean up waste generated from World War II-era weapons testing, nuclear reactors, spent fuel processing and nuclear energy research at the site.

The Idaho Treatment Group, which employs about 600 people, has been the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project contractor since 2011. That project retrieves, characterizes, treats and packages transuranic waste stored at the DOE site.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website, transuranic waste includes “material contaminated with transuranic elements — artificially made, radioactive elements, such as neptunium, plutonium, americium, and others — that have atomic numbers higher than uranium in the periodic table of elements. Transuranic waste is primarily produced from recycling spent fuel or using plutonium to fabricate nuclear weapons.”

Both the CWI and Idaho Treatment Group contracts will expire Sept. 30, 2015.

CWI’s three-year contract is worth about $730 million. Idaho Treatment Group’s contract is worth $417 million.

Under the new plan, DOE anticipates four contracts:

• ICP Core, which includes waste management and spent nuclear fuel.

• Calcine Disposition Project and Spent Fuel Repackaging, which includes design for a receiving, packaging and shipping facility for spent nuclear fuel.

• Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed facilities, which includes management and operation of storage facilities.

• D&D and Construction, which includes disposal facility operations and Accelerated Retrieval Project IX construction.

The value of each of those contracts was difficult to pin down Wednesday. Information on the DOE’s website showed a range of $25 million to more than $1 billion.

Many of those involved in the procurement process, including a handful of DOE representatives, declined to comment Wednesday on the new plan.

According to a DOE timeline in the news release, the agency will meet with prospective bidders later this year and expects to receive proposals during the first quarter of 2015. Bids would be awarded during the fourth quarter of 2015.

The proposed contract changes were based, in part, on feedback received in early December from companies that attended what was billed as the “Idaho Cleanup Project Industry Day” in Idaho Falls.

That event included an overview of the history of the laboratory, timelines for fuel cleanup mandated by the 1995 Settlement Agreement, safety expectations and processes, infrastructure needs and environmental protections.

At the time, Jim Cooper, deputy manager of Environmental Management for the DOE’s Idaho Operations Office, called the gathering of more than 80 nuclear energy officials and potential local contractors a first step to “one of the most critical endeavors” the cleanup process will face in coming years.