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Nuclear waste removal plan ahead of schedule

Associated Press

TWIN FALLS – The Department of Energy has more plans for removing radioactive waste buried about 40 years ago in unlined pits above the Snake River Plain Aquifer at Idaho’s nuclear site.

The department is not required to have a formal plan for waste removal at the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory until 2008, but it’s continuing accelerated cleanup projects on sites including Pit 4 and Pit 6 at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

So far, crews have removed about 2 percent of the waste at one section of Pit 4. Work on that project began in February, said Jeff Perry, project manager for DOE. He said the department expects to complete the first stage in Pit 4 cleanup in late September.

The department estimates that in the 1960s, more than 21,000 55-gallon drums of waste from Colorado were dumped in a combined half-acre section of the two pits. This second phase of the department’s plan proposes to remove enough waste to fill up to 10,000 drums, said Kathleen Trever, the state’s oversight administrator at INL.

The department is concerned about volatile, mobile organic compounds and transuranic waste, such as plutonium, which is highly radioactive and can take thousands of years to decay.

“We’re removing the highest concentration of volatile organic compounds in these areas,” Tim Jackson, a spokesman for the department, said.

The waste will be treated and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog group based in Boise, does not necessarily agree with DOE’s selective cleaning approach. Accelerated projects that leave waste behind don’t make sense to the group’s director, Jeremy Maxand.

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