The latest test of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) has failed. The IWTU was to have solidified INL’s last 900,000 gallons of liquid high-level waste in 2012, a key cleanup deadline in the 1995 Settlement Agreement. But the facility has yet to operate successfully, and each time it is tested – without radioactive waste – workers encounter a different set of major problems.
February 2017 was to have been the start of a series of increasingly long test runs. But the first run had to be aborted when one of the vessels supposed to hold and treat the liquid did not heat up properly – although the surrounding cell enclosure did. Now everything has to cool off before inspectors can go in and try to figure out what went wrong this time.
Some people believe it’s all right that the liquid waste is still in the buried tanks because the tanks haven’t leaked. But the pipes and valves around them have, and the soil surrounding the tank farm is some of the most contaminated at the Site. This winter’s weather reminds us that INL can’t cap the tank farm area until the waste has been removed. Every time it rains or snows, more of the waste in the soil is driven down toward water.
Shipments from INL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will begin in April after accidents in February 2014 closed the facility. It will be slow going. WIPP will accept 128 shipments in 2017, and 61 of those will come from Idaho. Our large share reflects both the precedence the 1995 Settlement Agreement gives the State as well as how much plutonium-contaminated weapons waste ended up here. But WIPP plans to accept only 34 shipments in 2018 because the waste hoist that lowers barrels into the repository needs major repairs. INL currently has more than 900 shipments of contact-handled waste and more than 200 shipments of remote-handled waste that is ready to certify for WIPP disposal.