Drum spills low-level sludge at INL

The 177-acre Radioactive Waste Management Complex at the Idaho National Laboratory site. The circled building is the Accelerated Retrieval Project facility for processing drums containing low-level radioactive wastes. It was the site of a drum breach and radioactive sludge spill event that started late on Wednesday night. The incident was contained and the area affected was decontaminated and cleaned-up by early Thursday afternoon.
Catie Clark

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Information Center were activated on the morning of April 12. This was due to an incident at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC). A drum containing a radioactive sludge in the Accelerated Retrieval Project (APR-V or APR-5) was observed with an elevated temperature. The drum was also breached and some sludge spilled from it.
The INL Fire Department responded to a fire alarm late Wednesday night due to the drum. The incident did not result in any injuries nor was any transuranic material released to the environment.
The small amount of spilled sludge was contained inside the APR-V building. This facility was equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters designed to trap any airborne contaminants. As a results, no radioactive material was released to the atmosphere.
Throughout the drum breach event, the surrounding area of the RWMC was monitored and no releases of contamination were detected outside the building.
Due to the drum, some operations at the RWMC were restricted while the drum was contained and spill removed. Most employees at the complex were able to report to work on their normal shifts on Thursday morning.
"It was a breach involving a drum containing sludge with a low-level of radioactive contamination," said Shelly Norman, an INL representative at the Joint Information Center. "Because the fire department responded and the drum was breached, it's our policy to to activate the Emergency Operations Center."
The Joint Information Center is located in the INL Engineering Research Office Building in Idaho Falls. The center exists as a centralized point to disseminate information on incidents at INL facilities for all of the contractors working at the lab. It was activated early Thursday morning and stayed up until early afternoon. The center was shut down after the drum and its associated spill were cleaned-up and all related contamination was removed.
The Emergency Operations Center was activated and stayed open until the resolution of the drum incident in support of Fluor-Idaho, the clean-up contractor at the Idaho Site. Fluor manages most of the operations at the RWMC.
The 177-acre RWMC facility is located 40 miles northwest of Blackfoot on the INL Site. It is five miles from the north side of Big Southern Butte and four miles from the Bingham County border. It was used by the Atomic Energy Commission and then by the Department of Energy (DOE) to store and dispose of radioactive and chemical wastes. Many of these wastes were buried at the RWMC in drums and other small containers.
The DOE, EPA and the State of Idaho came to an agreement in 2005 to remove almost 70,000 cubic yards of RWMC waste, buried drums and drums containing radioactive sludge. The drums with sludge would be repackaged in the APR-V building and sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The drum involved in the incident of April 11-12 was one of those drums.
Under the Clinton administration, the DOE adopted an openness policy that it was retained ever since. The policy extends to any accidental mishaps on their facilities, including the INL. Even minor events are reported to the news media and general public. Because radioactive materials may be involved, the DOE tries to be as transparent as possible.
"We report even small stuff that most others wouldn't bother with," said Don Miley, the public information director assistant at the Joint Information Center on Thursday. "We don't want anyone to accuse the DOE that operations at the INL were not open and honest. Even if it's a relatively minor and simple-to-contain drum like today, we'll still inform the public that it happened.
"A lot of uranium and plutonium compounds are pyrophoric, meaning they can heat up and sometime catch on fire if they can oxidize," Miley explained. "That's probably what happened with the sludge in the drum. It's not uncommon and Fluor and the INL know how to handle these occasions."