U.S. Water News Online
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- Workers at the Idaho National
Laboratory are about to start cleaning up radioactive contaminants
that leaked into soil and groundwater to try to prevent the waste
from reaching the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer.
The work is being done as part of the $2.9 billion Idaho Cleanup
Project to clean up facilities and reactors no longer in use at the
890 square-mile federal nuclear research area in eastern Idaho.
Precautionary measures to protect the aquifer are also being
"We're not even watering the grass," Amy Lientz, the cleanup
project's communications director, told the Post Register. She said
surface water could percolate through contaminated soil and reach the
The Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer is 60 miles wide and 170
miles long, covers about 10,800 square miles and holds about 250
million acre feet of water.
Idaho Department of Water Resources estimates that about 7,500 of
Idaho's 10,000 irrigation wells pump from the aquifer to water crops,
as do about 47,000 of Idaho's 70,000 domestic wells.
The leaks of contaminated waste at the INL occurred between 1954
and 1986 because of flaws in piping and valves. About 18,600 gallons
leaked in 1972 in one mishap. INL officials said those problems have
since been fixed.
INL workers, from 1952 to 1986, also pumped more than 12 billion
gallons of wastewater into an injection well, which created a
1.5-mile plume of strontium 465.
"We are most worried about strontium in the water and cesium in
the soil," Lientz said.
Strontium, which can cause cancer in high doses, exceeds Idaho
water-quality standards. Soil contaminated with cesium can also be a
Lientz said that the plume has been receding since the leaks were
stopped and the INL discontinued using the injection well.
"We expect to meet Idaho water-quality standards by 2095," she
The company CH2M-WG Idaho LLC is managing the project, which
includes dismantling 215 facilities by 2012.
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