INEEL calciner to shut down in coming week

Tuesday, May 30, 2000

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The yellow-orange plume from a calciner at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory will not be visible after this week.

The plant that has burned highly radioactive liquid wastes at INEEL for the last 18 years will be shut down by Thursday, under an agreement with the state and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those regulators have allowed the calciner, which converts liquid waste to a detergentlike powder less likely to leak into the aquifer, to operate without a stringent hazardous waste permit for more than a decade.

Critics maintain those lax regulations may have endangered the public, because the site could not directly measure heavy metals and hazardous chemicals coming out of the stack.

The gases being released were so corrosive they damaged instruments designed to take samples. Last year, engineers found a way to solve that problem and began taking pollution measurements.

That satisfied state regulators, who said the emissions did not pose undue health risks. The Department of Environmental Quality agreed to let the calciner run until June, while INEEL officials collected more data enabling them to meet requirements in a more thorough hazardous waste permit.

The calciner was opposed by the Jackson-based group Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which earlier this year succeeded in blocking plans for a nuclear waste incinerator at INEEL.

The calciner has converted more than 8 million gallons of the site's deadliest radioactive waste during its lifetime - enough to fill about 30 underground tanks.

INEEL officials will not decide whether to restart the calciner until they finish an environmental study of its high-level waste early next year.

If officials decide to continue calcining, the INEEL will have to get a full-blown hazardous waste permit from the state, which would require extensive test burns to prove the emissions aren't harmful.

The Department of Energy also would have to spend an estimated $70 million to upgrade the calciner so it meets stricter air pollution regulations that go into effect next year.

The site is also looking at building new plants to replace the calciner. Those might dissolve the powdered calcine back into a liquid and turn the waste into glass or cement blocks that would go to a permanent dump.