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Idaho Radioactive-Waste Converter Exceeds Emissions Limit

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Publication date: Mar 29, 2000

(By Jennifer Langston, Post Register, Idaho Falls, Idaho )

Mar. 29--The calciner that has recently become the focus of a new Wyoming environmental group released more air pollution than it should have last weekend.

The calciner exceeded its air permit levels for 23 minutes Saturday night -- releasing slightly elevated levels of nitrogen oxides, pollutants that form ozone and smog.

Mike Simon, air quality permitting manager for the state Division of Environmental Quality, described the event as "minor" but something the agency will watch.

The DEQ, which should receive a report on the incident within two weeks, looks at how long air quality violations occurred, what the risks were and what corrections were made before deciding what actions to take, he said.

The agency Tuesday afternoon didn't have data readily available to say how many times the calciner had violated permit limits in the past, but said there had never been any problems serious enough to warrant taking enforcement action.

The calciner, which converts liquid radioactive waste into a dry powder, was restarted earlier this month for one last run before it is shut down in June.

Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which successfully blocked the construction of a new incinerator at the INEEL this week, now plans to focus on shutting the calciner down permanently, said executive director Tom Patricelli.

The group, based in Jackson, Wyo., said the risks from restarting the calciner and its air emissions were too high. It also said the site was "simply taking advantage of a regulatory loophole to perform risky experiments that they won't be able to do after June."

After that date, officials must decide whether it's worth investing in upgrades so the aging facility can meet new regulations to cut down on pollution from incinerators.

The facility has also been operating without a full-blown permit to regulate hazardous wastes since it was built in 1982. The site has been running tests for the last year to see if it can meet those stricter regulations as well.

The INEEL has been monitoring nitrogen oxides and radioactive particles coming from the calciner for years under an air quality permit issued by the state, Simon said.

But it hadn't been able to directly measure levels of heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals coming out of the stack until last year because the instruments to take samples of the gas burned up.

Scientists finally solved that problem, and the state agreed to let the site operate the calciner and collect more emissions data until June, when it will be put on standby until it's properly permitted.

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is currently studying other ways to treat its high-level and liquid waste, but hasn't picked a course of action.

The site has been experimenting with operating the calciner at higher temperatures to better process liquid radioactive waste in underground tanks that contains sodium.

Saturday night's incident occurred as the operators were slowly increasing the temperature to 600 degrees Celsius. Operators recognized the nitrogen oxide problem before emissions limits were exceeded and started making adjustments, but the system didn't respond rapidly enough, officials said.

The calciner is only supposed to release 472 pounds of nitrogen oxides per hour, under its permit. The emissions exceeded that by 10 pounds.

The plant is now operating at full temperature and emissions are within allowable levels, site officials said. -----

To see more of the Post Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to (c) 2000, Post Register, Idaho Falls, Idaho. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

Publication date: Mar 29, 2000 ) 2000, NewsReal, Inc.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 02, 2000

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