Work On Calcine Re-Packaging Underway In Idaho

A long-term calcine removal project at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center is in the prototype construction and demonstration phase with a drilling test scheduled for July, a Department of Energy project manager said.

Calcine WasteThe manager, Mark Shaw, explained the process being developed for re-packaging highly radioactive calcine-form waste that started as a liquid by-product of a spent fuel recycling program. The heated-treated waste, in what is described as a “laundry detergent-like powder,” form, is kept in stainless steel bins housed in concrete storage containers that were originally expected to be permanent storage. As such, there is no prescribed way to extract the waste, which was expected to remain sealed.

Shaw told the Idaho National Laboratory Site Citizens Advisory Board in Idaho Falls – 50 miles from the storage site – that the process --drilling holes in concrete and welding pipe -- was “all pretty simple.” Workers, however, are building a mock vault roof, 21-inches thick, and will initiate a drilling test in July. The plan is to vacuum the calcine from the bins and re-package it in newer bins. In 2015, according to the Post Register, tests were conducted that showed the calcine could be vacuumed at a rate of 1,000 pounds per hour.

Vacuuming will be done as a two-step process. The initial vacuuming will be straightforward: The pipe will enter the bin from the top and move to the bottom of the bin – through 20 feet of calcine – to complete the vacuuming. In the next phase, a specially-designed robot – designed by British company OC Robotics – will be deployed to find and extract the remaining calcine that is expected to be situated behind interior brackets inside the bins.

That vacuuming robot will either be designed as a rotating arm or as a flexible “elephant trunk-like” system, Shaw said.

There are three steel bins in each concrete vault. It is expected to cost $50 million to remove the calcine from the first set of bins (in vault No. 1) to the new container. The DOE has contracted Fluor Idaho to execute the process. Transferring is expected to begin in 2020.

The project is part of a 1995 Settlement Agreement between Idaho and the DOE in which the federal agency is committed to preparing the calcine for transfer out of the state by 2035. 

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