Environment News Service

AmeriScan: May 26, 2000


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho, May 26, 2000 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to shut down an operating radioactive waste incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) no later than September 2002. The agency has decided against upgrading the Waste Experimental Reduction Facility (WERF) incinerator at the INEEL to meet new air emissions standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, DOE plans to use commercial facilities and non-incineration processes to treat the mixed low level radioactive waste that has been burned at WERF. The incinerator may shut down by the end of September 2001, unless DOE decides to seek a one year extension allowed by EPA regulations.

"The amount of waste that we've been able to identify for potential treatment in the future doesn't justify the expense of upgrading the facility," said Beverly Cook, manager of DOE's Idaho Operations Office. "I want to emphasize, however, that until the incinerator is shut down, we will continue to operate it safely, and within the current health and safety standards." The WERF incinerator began burning low level radioactive waste in 1985. In 1995, it began treating mixed waste, which contains both radioactive wastes and hazardous chemicals. Incineration destroys hazardous chemicals and reduces waste volume. The incinerator has treated about 9,500 cubic meters of low level waste, and about 570 cubic meters of mixed waste, including waste from other DOE facilities. About 2,000 cubic meters of mixed low level radioactive wastes are now stored at INEEL. Alternative treatment methods include binding contaminants into an inert material or compressing the wastes before shipment for offsite disposal. DOE will also consider shipping wastes to commercial incinerators. A draft document of the shutdown plan will be made available to the public by June 30 for a 30 day comment period.

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