DEQ is responsible for administering hazardous waste permits at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Many of the wastes managed at the permitted treatment and storage facilities at the INL are “mixed waste,” or waste that is regulated by DEQ under the Hazardous Waste Management Act for its chemically hazardous properties and by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for its radioactive properties.
DEQ’s permitting efforts aim to support both the ongoing mission at INL and the 1995 Settlement Agreement addressing legacy wastes and ongoing site cleanup and closure actions.
Three areas at the INL conduct permitted hazardous waste activity:
- Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC)
- Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC)
- Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC), including the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project
INTEC historically reprocessed spent nuclear fuels, among other research missions. Today, efforts are primarily focused on managing the residuals from this reprocessing effort. Mixed waste managed at INTEC includes calcine solids and approximately 853,000 gallons of liquid sodium-bearing waste stored in underground tanks. Mixed waste is also generated from equipment decontamination and closure, as well as characterization, treatment, and repacking of highly radioactive mixed waste from INL and other DOE sites. These wastes usually require further treatment prior to shipment off site. The site currently has multiple partial permits (meaning less than the entire site) addressing these activities.
MFC supports INL’s ongoing mission and management of legacy waste from past activities. These activities include storage; storage of waste for radioactive decay; treatment by neutralization of mixed waste; and waste characterization, treatment, and repackaging. MFC has a single partial permit addressing activities at the site.
RWMC received, disposed of (before the early 1970s), and stored Cold War wastes. To date, over 60,000 cubic meters of mixed waste has been retrieved, characterized, treated, repackaged, and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or other suitable disposal locations. The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project and the RWMC component of the Volume 18 permit address waste management activities at RWMC.
DEQ is authorized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate hazardous waste in Idaho. EPA still remains involved in how the state regulates hazardous waste. Proper hazardous waste management is an integral part of protecting human health and Idaho’s air, land, and water. Many of the wastes managed at the INL are “mixed waste,” or waste that is regulated by DEQ for its chemically hazardous properties and by the US Department of Energy (DOE) for its radioactive properties.
The Hazardous Waste Bureau seeks to achieve compliance through a number of tools including technical assistance, inspections, and enforcement actions. Some or all of the facilities at the INL are inspected at least once a year to see if permits and regulations are being followed. If violations are found, the Hazardous Waste Bureau may issue an enforcement action. The enforcement process focuses on working with DOE and its contractors to identify and correct problems and prevent them from reoccurring. DEQ sometimes issues civil penalties as part of this process. Highlighted below are two of the most significant INL compliance agreements that the Hazardous Waste Bureau oversees.
- INL Site Treatment Plan. In 1992, the Federal Facility Compliance Act (FFCA) was signed into law. The law required DOE to prepare a plan for developing treatment capacities and technologies for each facility at which DOE generates or stores mixed waste. To fulfill the requirements of the FFCA, DOE prepared a Site Treatment Plan (STP) providing a schedule with milestones to treat mixed waste at the INL, in consultation with DEQ, EPA, the public, and other affected states. This far-reaching document covers the treatment of mixed waste streams, including high-level, transuranic, and low-level waste. The STP is enforceable via a Consent Order signed by DEQ and DOE. No penalties have been assessed under the STP.
- Notice of Noncompliance Consent Order. DOE and its predecessor agencies formerly reprocessed spent nuclear fuel at the INL. Reprocessing operations and associated decontamination activities resulted in the generation of high-level radioactive liquid mixed waste. These liquid wastes were stored in eleven 300,000 gallon belowground tanks (known as the tank farm facility). The waste is very acidic and highly radioactive. It also contains chemicals that make it a hazardous waste. The storage tanks were built in the 1950s and do not meet current regulatory standards.
In 1989, EPA and DEQ conducted the first hazardous waste inspection of the INL. EPA was the lead agency as Idaho was not yet authorized to implement the hazardous waste program. In 1990, EPA issued a Notice of Noncompliance (NON) to DOE for violations of the hazardous waste regulations. Among many other violations, the NON cited the INL’s tank farm facility, and the associated piping and valve boxes, for not having adequate secondary containment. The liquids are a concern because the tanks sit above the Snake River Plain Aquifer, critical drinking water, and agricultural resource for much of southern Idaho.
In 1992, the NON-Consent Order (NON-CO) became effective, signed by DEQ (then the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare), EPA, and DOE for resolution of the violations contained in the NON. The NON-CO contained a phased compliance schedule for upgrading the tank farm piping and valve boxes, as well as a deadline by which DOE would permanently empty and close the tank farm tanks, or achieve compliance with all secondary containment requirements.
DOE initially treated some of the liquid waste in a facility that existed at the time known as the “Calciner” and eventually emptied and closed seven of the tanks. Due to the high sodium content of the liquid waste generated during later phases of spent nuclear fuel processing, the remaining “sodium-bearing waste” was not as amenable to treatment in the existing Calciner facility. A total of 853,000 gallons of waste are currently stored in three of the tanks. One additional tank is empty and could be used as a back-up tank if needed. DOE has completed construction of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) to treat the liquid sodium-bearing waste in order to empty and close the tanks, but delays during testing have prevented DOE from meeting deadlines to achieve full facility operation.
In January 2015, DEQ issued a Notice of Violation to DOE. On March 3, 2015, the Fifth Modification to the NON-CO became effective. The Fifth Modification required DOE to pay a civil penalty and establish a new compliance schedule for treating the sodium-bearing waste and emptying the tanks. Due to ongoing delays with the treatment facility, DOE failed to meet the new milestones. Pursuant to the Fifth Modification to the NON-CO, DEQ began assessing a daily stipulated civil penalty on October 1, 2016. The daily penalty continues to accrue at the current rate of $6,000 per day. DOE satisfies the penalty on an annual basis, through a cash penalty payment and/or completion of various supplemental environmental projects.
Since its inception in 1949, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has fulfilled numerous US Department of Energy (DOE) missions, including designing and testing nuclear reactors; reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to recover fissile materials; managing spent nuclear fuel; and storing, treating, and disposing of a variety of wastes. Some of these activities resulted in suspected and confirmed releases of contaminants to the environment, and INL was added to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Priority List of Superfund Sites in 1989.
Environmental cleanup of the 890 square-mile site began in 1989, and the majority of the cleanup work is driven by regulatory compliance agreements, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)-based Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order (FFA/CO). The FFA/CO is a legally binding cleanup agreement that was signed in 1991 by DEQ, EPA, and DOE.
The cleanup work is funded through the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management and focuses on reducing risks to workers, the public, and the environment—particularly the Snake River Plain Aquifer, which serves as the sole agricultural and drinking water source for much of eastern Idaho. The past use of unlined wastewater disposal ponds, industrial injection wells, accidental spills, and waste discharges created contaminant plumes underneath INL. As a Superfund Site, DOE conducts risk-based cleanup, which is subject to DEQ and EPA approval. This means that if a confirmed contaminant release to soil and/or ground water poses an unacceptable risk to either humans or the environment, it requires cleanup or the establishment of controls to keep people, plants, or animals from coming into contact with the waste. If a site poses little to no risk, either limited action or no action is taken.
Since 1991, EPA, DEQ, and DOE have signed 25 Records of Decisions on individual contaminant release sites and entire facilities at INL. Cleanup actions continue at Test Area North, the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, and the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. The FFA/CO subdivided INL into 10 waste area groups (WAGs) to facilitate remediation. These groups contain individual sites that are organized into operable units based on proximity or similar characteristics. WAGs 1-9 comprise the major facilities at INL, while WAG 10 encompasses the remaining portions of the site and site-wide ground water issues. Each WAG has a comprehensive Record of Decision that addresses human and ecological risk and has actions to restore or protect ground water within 100 years.