Incident reported at Idaho nuclear site, crews responding

April 12, 2018

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Federal officials early Thursday activated an Emergency Operations Center and sent crews to a reported incident at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho.

The U.S. Department of Energy in a statement said it’s gathering information about the incident at the 890-square-mile (2,305-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

Officials haven’t released details about the type of incident reported at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. For decades, radioactive waste from around the country was buried at the complex.

Idaho National Laboratory Joint Information Center spokeswoman Laura Scheele said she had no information about any injuries or possible radioactive contamination.

“Based on information obtained so far, there is no risk to the public,” the Energy Department said in a news release.

The Energy Department said it’s standard practice to activate the Emergency Operations Center and coordinate incident responders when an incident is reported. The federal agency also notified state, county and tribal officials.

The isolated desert site includes the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s leading federal nuclear research lab. But the sprawling site in sagebrush steppe about 55 miles (88 kilometers) west of the city of Idaho Falls has also been used for nuclear waste disposal and storage. The federal government has been cleaning up the area following federal court battles and several agreements in the 1990s amid concerns by Idaho officials that the state was becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

The Radioactive Waste Management Complex is on 177 acres (72 hectares) and includes an administration area, the Subsurface Disposal Area and the Transuranic Storage Area. An Energy Department contractor called Fluor Idaho is cleaning up the area with more than 700 workers.

In the 1950s, the Energy Department began using the area to store and dispose of radioactive and other hazardous waste generated in national defense and research programs.

The 97-acre (39-hectare) Subsurface Disposal Area has been used for disposal of low-level hazardous and transuranic waste. Transuranic waste includes items like work clothing, rags, machine parts and tools that have been contaminated with plutonium, americium or other radioactive elements.

Officials say most of the transuranic waste in the Subsurface Disposal Area came from nuclear weapons production at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, Colorado.

The 56-acre (23-hectare) Transuranic Storage Area stores waste that sits on asphalt pads covered with an earth berm. Workers have been retrieving 85,000 cubic yards (65,000 cubic meters) of the material that is prepared for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

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