Last winter, when Jackson Hole, Wyo., residents
sued the Department of Energy to stop a nuclear waste incinerator
planned for Idaho, it was just the tip of the smokestack (HCN,
4/10/00: Incinerator plans go up in smoke).
early June, two conservation groups, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free
and Idaho's Environmental Defense Institute, notified the DOE that
they intended to sue again - this time over the agency's operation
of a high-level radioactive waste treatment facility at the Idaho
National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
Since 1982, the DOE has treated 8
million gallons of liquid toxic waste at the INEEL "calciner." The
waste, including spent nuclear fuel, is poured onto a bed heated to
500 degrees Celsius. "In theory, only water vaporizes off, so they
get rid of the water and are left with this dry material," says
Erik Ringelberg, director of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear
But INEEL officials admit that they don't
know exactly what's gone up the calciner smokestacks. One of the
problems with monitoring the emissions is that they are very
acidic, says INEEL spokesman Brad Bugger. "So when we heat it up in
the calciner, it goes up the stack and ... it basically destroyed
In early June, the DOE put the
calciner on "standby," shutting it down for the rest of the year.
Bugger says it will now decide whether to upgrade the facility to
meet federal Clean Air Act standards or close it for good.