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Idaho nuclear waste treatment plant hit with more problems

April 26, 2022 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A nuclear waste treatment plant in eastern Idaho had two unanticipated shutdowns this year, U.S. officials said Tuesday, continuing a lengthy history of setbacks.

Trent Neville of the U.S. Department of Energy said they’re working on the problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the department’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory. The plant might start operating later this year.

Neville told members of the Environmental Management Site-Specific Advisory Board and Idaho Cleanup Project that the plant ran out of liquid nitrogen in January, and also had a rapid automatic shutdown while testing with a simulant material in February.

The plant was built to treat 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing, radioactive waste from processing spent nuclear fuel to recover highly enriched uranium. The waste is in tanks above the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that supplies water to cities and farms.

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The department is paying fines to Idaho for missing a deadline to convert the liquid waste into solid material as stipulated in a 1995 agreement that was the culmination of a series of federal lawsuits.

Idaho, because of the missed deadline, is preventing the department from bringing in research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to be studied at the lab.