IWTU

Construction on the 53,000-square-foot Integrated Waste Treatment Unit started in 2007.

BOISE — The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit should be processing waste by the end of the year, the new head of the Idaho Cleanup Project said Thursday.

The facility is located at the U.S. Department of Energy desert site west of Idaho Falls and was supposed to have treated the 900,000 gallons of liquid waste there years ago but hasn’t due to technical problems. Connie Flohr had been acting manager since Jack Zimmerman moved on to a new job with the DOE in Ohio and just became manager officially Thursday. She told the Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission at its meeting at the Capitol that some changes were made after simulant runs in 2018 and 2019.

“We ran the plant during those simulant runs as if it was in radiological space,” she said.

Flohr said some confirmatory test runs would be done late this summer to see if the modifications are working. If they are, she said waste processing work should start by the end of 2020.

Delays at the IWTU have put DOE in breach of the 1995 Settlement Agreement between the state and federal governments setting deadlines for waste disposal and led Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to block shipments of spent nuclear fuel for research to Idaho National Laboratory in 2016. Wasden and Gov. Brad Little signed a new deal with the DOE in November 2019 that would allow shipments of research fuel, but IWTU needs to start processing waste again before this can happen.

As for other waste cleanup, Flohr said they are ahead of schedule on exhuming buried waste and should finish in 2021. However, she said conditions at Accelerated Retrieval Project IX, where the oldest waste on the site is buried, are worse than expected, with virtually none of the solid drums of waste intact.

“It’s just a long, drawn-out process for them to sort through and make sure they find the targeted waste they’re looking for,” she said.

Flohr said closure proceedings under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act have already started for the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, which finished treating the waste there last year although it will be years until it can all be shipped out-of-state, and ARP V. She also said they are on track to move all spent fuel into dry storage by 2023.

“I think we’re in a pretty good place,” she said. “Lots more to do, but it’s all good right now.”

DOE has started the process to solicit bids for a new contractor to run the Idaho Cleanup Project, as Fluor Idaho’s runs out on May 31, 2021. Flohr said she couldn’t say much about that process other than some information about the solicitation and the timeline that DOE has already made public.

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