About 700 workers of the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project face uncertain futures following the recent announcement that the facility is expected to close next year, after it is done processing the waste that’s there now.
The facility, located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s desert site west of Idaho Falls, is processing old transuranic waste that is then shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., for permanent storage. The DOE had considered keeping it open after this was done to process more waste from other states, especially from the Hanford site in Washington state, but decided against it.
DOE spokesman Tim Jackson said the impact on the site’s workers is “currently being evaluated and will be mitigated to the extent possible through employee reassignment to other mission activities under (Fluor Idaho’s) contract as well as voluntary separation incentives.”
“The Department of Energy analyzed the feasibility of extending the AMWTP mission to treat waste from other DOE sites, and concluded it would not be cost-effective,” Jackson said.
“Therefore, upon completion of the mission, DOE will initiate closure activities in accordance with regulatory permits and the existing Fluor Idaho contract.”
Jackson said buildings and equipment to characterize, certify, store and ship treated transuranic and mixed-low-level radioactive waste to off-site disposal facilities will remain in use until their respective missions are completed.
“The waste that is there now is expected to be processed around the middle of next year, said Erik Simpson, spokesman for Fluor Idaho, the contractor that does the cleanup work. “While we are disappointed in this decision, we understand that DOE considered the business case for this action and found a future mission not feasible.”
The AMWTP has processed more than 65,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste since it has been open. Simpson said Fluor is trying to reduce the impact of the closure by identifying other job opportunities at Fluor or with other partner companies and through training and job assistance programs.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who is chairman of the House Energy and Water subcommittee, added a clause to a budget bill in March ordering DOE to prepare a report on the economic case for processing more waste at AMWTP or elsewhere.
“It is a difficult thing to know that you are working yourself out of a job every day, but that is the unfortunate nature of cleanup work,” Simpson said in an email Thursday. “The workers at AMWTP have done this with dedication, persistence and an impeccable safety record. I am grateful to the DOE for seriously considering extending the AMWTP mission, and we are all disappointed that DOE’s analysis found that it would not be economically viable to continue to operate the facility. I hope in the coming days DOE will provide the people of Southeast Idaho sufficient information on how it came to this conclusion. I also want to express my deep gratitude to the workers at AMWTP for their service to Idaho and the nation.”
Monica Hampton, the head of Butte County Economic Development, said the impact of the closure will depend on whether the people working at the AMWTP now can get other jobs at Fluor or Idaho National Laboratory.
“I am being told by them that ... they’re thinking they’re going to help these people transition to other jobs, so they wouldn’t be moving,” she said. “But if these jobs were to completely go away, yes, that has a big impact on Butte County.