INL’s hot cells once again prove the value of the EM waste treatment mission

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) – The Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management’s (EM’s) use of reused Cold War-era hot cells at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site continues to pay off by allowing workers to tackle some of the toughest types of waste in the Idaho cleanup project.

Teams from the EM INL site clean-up contractor, Fluor Idaho, recently received a drum full of concrete at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) . Investigations indicated that a radiological source inside this concrete was remotely handled transuranium waste (TRU), defined as having an activity level greater than 200 millirems per hour on contact. The AMWTP teams discovered the solid concrete inside the drum during characterization activities.

The teams placed the drum in a hot cell at the New Waste Calcination Facility (NWCF), which, until 2000, converted highly radioactive liquid waste into a stable granular solid called calcine. NWCF hot cells have been modified with specialized ceiling hatches to allow RH-TRU waste to be characterized, processed and reconditioned according to the waste acceptance criteria of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where waste would be permanently disposed of.

Due to the solid nature of concrete, waste management personnel drilled holes in it and injected expanding grout into the holes to fracture the concrete. The teams then broke the concrete into pieces using equipment in the hot cell.

“The crews are doing an incredible job developing methods to open these containers. Whenever I doubt them, they prove me wrong, ”said Mark Nefzger, waste management manager for Fluor Idaho.

Inside the drum was TRU waste generated in the former Argonne-Ouest National Laboratory, now the Materials and Fuels Complex, in the 1970s. Teams had shipped the waste to AMWTP for disposal in area. These details have been verified by a waste burglary indicator device number.

It was the second time that teams treated concrete containing RH-TRU waste in an INTEC hot cell. The hot cells of the INTEC facility were also used to characterize and recondition more difficult waste with limited data in 2018.

Hot cells previously used for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel at Chemical Processing Plant-666 are also used for the treatment of potentially reactive sodium waste using processes developed at the INL site.

“Without these hot cells, we couldn’t manage, characterize and repackage these types of difficult waste forms,” Nefzger said.

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