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Idaho nuclear waste treatment plant hit with more problems

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BOISE (AP) — A nuclear waste treatment plant in eastern Idaho had two unanticipated shutdowns this year, U.S. officials said Tuesday, continuing a lengthy history of setbacks.

Trent Neville of the U.S. Department of Energy said they’re working on the problems at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the department’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory. The plant might start operating later this year.

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Neville told members of the Environmental Management Site-Specific Advisory Board and Idaho Cleanup Project that the plant ran out of liquid nitrogen in January, and also had a rapid automatic shutdown while testing with a simulant material in February.

The plant was built to treat 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing, radioactive waste from processing spent nuclear fuel to recover highly enriched uranium. The waste is in tanks above the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that supplies water to cities and farms.

The department is paying fines to Idaho for missing a deadline to convert the liquid waste into solid material as stipulated in a 1995 agreement that was the culmination of a series of federal lawsuits.

Idaho, because of the missed deadline, is preventing the department from bringing in research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to be studied at the lab.

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