IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho officials are fining the federal government after the U.S. Department of Energy failed to start a radioactive waste treatment facility before a Friday deadline.
DOE officials said in May that they expected to miss the Sept. 30 deadline because they were facing ongoing technical problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit west of Idaho Falls, reported The Post Register (http://bit.ly/2cStK11 ). The facility is the first of its kind, built to treat 900,000 gallons of radioactive waste, but it has not been able to get past the testing phase without breaking down and is at least $200 million over the original budget of $571 million.
State environmental regulators are fining the DOE $3,600 per day. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director John Tippets sent a letter to DOE on Sept. 23, warning the agency that fines that would start accruing after the Sept. 30 deadline.
He wrote that DEQ recognizes the complexities of the facility but is obligated to ensure its hazardous waste agreements are met.
DOE spokeswoman Danielle Miller said in an email that “safety is our overarching concern and we will not begin radioactive waste treatment until we are convinced we can do it safely and efficiently.
The DOE missed its first Idaho-mandated deadline in 2014, and the state worked with the department to set the 2016 deadline to begin waste treatment. The job is supposed to be finished by 2018.
The liquid, sodium-bearing waste is kept in three underground stainless steel tanks. Federal officials say the tanks aren’t at risk of leaking even though they are more than 50 years old.
Environmental regulators, however, would like to see the tanks emptied as soon as possible. They say a leak could threaten the Snake River Plain Aquifer.
Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com