$50M calcine retrieval project to start

Six concrete silos are filled with highly radioactive calcine material on the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site. DOE officials said Thursday they are starting the process of removing the waste from storage, so it can be ready for shipment from Idaho by 2035.

U.S. Department of Energy officials on Thursday said they were starting a yearslong process to retrieve a highly radioactive waste known as calcine from storage facilities at the desert site.

The laundry detergent-like material must be treated and packaged for shipment out of Idaho by 2035, under terms of DOE’s 1995 Settlement Agreement with the state. But first DOE and contractor Fluor Idaho will have to carefully extract the waste from its current stainless steel and concrete storage facilities, said Mark Shaw, a DOE project manager.

Shaw told the Idaho National Laboratory Site Citizen’s Advisory Board on Thursday that early stages of the retrieval effort are ready to start. The first stage of the project will cost DOE nearly $50 million over the next five years, he said.

Some 4,400 cubic meters of the calcine is stored inside several dozen stainless steel bins, which are themselves sealed inside six concrete silos at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, or INTEC, about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls.

The calcine came from a DOE waste treatment process that occurred from 1963 to 2000, which transformed liquid radioactive waste into a more manageable powder form. The liquid waste had been leftovers from spent nuclear fuel recycling at INTEC.

Shaw said this first phase of the calcine retrieval process involves transferring 220 cubic meters of calcine stored in the oldest No. 1 “bin set” storage facility into a newer No. 6 bin set nearby, which has spare room.

This will allow DOE and Fluor to both clean up and close the No. 1 storage facility, and learn waste retrieval techniques that will be needed to remove calcine from the remaining storage facilities, Shaw said. The plan is to drill holes and construct piping that can transport the calcine between the two facilities, which are located a couple hundred yards apart, he said.

This year’s planning and testing phase of the project is expected to add about $4.5 million to Fluor’s contract, Shaw said, with the full retrieval and transfer project expected to cost close to $50 million through 2022.

Eventually, the calcine must undergo another round of treatment before it can leave the state. It will be pressed together into larger chunks of radioactive waste using a hot isostatic pressing process. The press system is likely to be constructed inside the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, once its current mission of treating a final batch of liquid radioactive waste is complete.

There is no underground repository in the U.S. that can accept high-level nuclear waste such as the calcine, and likely won’t be for years. But Shaw said DOE nevertheless wanted to move toward meeting the 2035 date of having the treated calcine ready to ship.

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 208-542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth