IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - Hundreds of workers at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) were celebrated for their accomplishments Wednesday in officially kicking off the treatment for actual sodium-bearing radioactive liquid waste.
Idaho Environmental Coalition has been in charge of the cleanup project finding innovative ways to convert the liquid waste.
IWTU was constructed from 2007 to 2012 to convert 900,000 gallons of liquid waste from three underground storage tanks located at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center into a more stable, granular solid.
The facility was built to treat liquid waste that will be converted in a repository as a solid granular form.
However, there have been challenges with finding ways to convert the radioactive liquid waste into a solid form over the years. Modifications were needed for the facility to operate more efficiently, such as mechanical challenges, chemistry challenges and routine operations.
The hundreds of workers on the IWTU project never gave up on their goal to successfully convert the sodium liquid waste to a solid, despite numerous challenges over the years, showed intelligent minds can come together to problem solve and achieve a common goal.
“We completed construction of this facility in 2011, and we've spent the last 12 years trying to get it up and running, said Connie Flohr, the Manager for the Idaho Cleanup Project. "In April, we were successfully able to safely start the facility and not only does it do good things by emptying out the tank waste that's here and is a good thing for everybody in the state of Idaho."
Idaho Governor Brad Little has been monitoring the project at the IWTU for several years prior to becoming Governor and has been following up on the progress of the project.
"What what we're marking is basically the fact that we're we're commencing we've got a significant amount of product, 68,000 gallons, but that's out of 900,000 that we've got processed," Governor Little said.
While the project still has made dramatic progress throughout the years, the site has treated more than 68,000 gallons of waste, which represents about 8% of total liquid waste volume in the tank farm. It is anticipated to take three to seven years to fully complete the treatment of radioactive liquid waste.
While the process has taken years to accomplish, crews have been focusing on making sure the storage of radioactive waste after conversion is safer for the environment.
Representatives from the Department of Energy were in attendance congratulating the team for their efforts.
“This is a very challenging area to work in, and the team has just done remarkable work to get to a point where we've processed 8 percent of the total of this type of waste here," United States Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk said. "So that's a real milestone to actually get this up and running, get it running to the point where we're doing significant volumes of waste."
The facility uses steam-reforming technology, a process that involves injecting liquid waste into a super heated vessel containing billions of tiny beads to effectively dry it out.
While the IWTU facility is part of the Idaho National Laboratory, this project is an Idaho Cleanup Project to treat radioactive waste, not a specific INL project.