AMWTP

Workers move drums filled with radioactive materials at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project. The facility is expected to close at the end of 2019.

There aren’t expected to be any involuntary layoffs at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project in June, but some are probably coming later this summer.

Jack Zimmerman, deputy manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project, updated the state’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission on Thursday on waste cleanup operations at the U.S. Department of Energy desert site west of Idaho Falls, including the AMWTP’s work.

Late last year DOE decided to close the AMWTP, which had almost 700 employees working for cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho, rather than keep it open to process the radioactive waste at the Hanford site in Washington. Fluor announced a month ago it would lay off 190 employees this fiscal year.

The AMWTP has been processing decades-old transuranic waste, and Zimmerman said he expects this to be over in July, although AMWTP will likely stay open for a few more months. Sludge waste that is being treated at AMWTP now will be processed at the Accelerated Retrieval Project VII facility instead starting in July. The AMWTP is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week now. After the transuranic waste is processed, Zimmerman said it would go down to a 12/7 schedule, then to a 10/5 schedule in September.

So far, Zimmerman said, there have been enough people taking a voluntary layoff offer to avoid involuntary ones, but this likely won’t be the case in September.

“At that point, it’s probably going to be impossible to avoid an involuntary separation,” he said.

Zimmerman said there would be another voluntary separation offer in August. He also said DOE was looking at other options to minimize the impact on workers.

Zimmerman reviewed progress on waste disposal throughout the site. He said the Idaho Cleanup Project has been the largest shipper to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. WIPP can take 10 shipments a week; five are allotted to the Idaho Cleanup Project, although Zimmerman said more waste is sent from Idaho when there are fewer shipments from elsewhere in the country. The average, he said is six to nine shipments a week from Idaho.

Contract workers finished exhuming buried waste at Accelerated Retrieval Project VIII in March, and started digging at Accelerated Retrieval Project IX, the last site, in late April. Digging up the remaining .69 acres of buried waste is expected to take about a year.

Also among the remaining waste is 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste, which will be processed at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit. This has been delayed for years due to technical problems, causing DOE to miss milestones for the 1995 Settlement Agreement between Idaho and DOE that sets deadlines for waste removal. DOE’s noncompliance led Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to block a shipment of spent research fuel to Idaho National Laboratory in 2016.

The IWTU has been doing demonstration runs since late summer 2018 to make sure it can process that waste safely, and is on day 36 of another 50-day simulant run now.

At the current rate, Zimmerman said waste treatment and shipping at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex will be done in 2028. At this point, the buildings will be torn down and the land covered with a cap that would be about half the height of the buildings visible today and covered with desert vegetation to blend in with its surroundings. Environmental monitoring will continue indefinitely after this.

“By 2028, I expect that we will have shrunk our cleanup footprint down to just one area left at the site,” he said.

The Idaho Cleanup Project’s budget is about $430 million a year, Zimmerman said, which is about 31 percent of INL’s $1.4 billion yearly budget.

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