Energy Department Announces 2022 Environmental Cleanup Priorities

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Environmental Management Office released on Jan. 18 its 2022 calendar year cleanup priorities, setting an agenda that will impact members at least five USW-represented sites who work on cleanup of radioactive and chemical waste.

This year’s priorities focus on achieving significant construction milestones, executing key cleanup projects, reducing the environmental management footprint, awarding new contracts, and improving the agency’s cleanup performance, with a focus on sustainability and innovation.

Jim Key, president of the USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC), cautioned that these priorities are largely aspirational and remain subject to the availability of federal funding.

He also raised concern that the push to complete these goals could negatively impact nuclear workers’ health and safety.

“We have seen contractors rush cleanup work by allowing unsafe actions and short-cuts in order to complete a project before DOE’s proposed deadline so they receive performance-based incentives,” Key said. “We report these unsafe actions to the DOE when members tell us about them.”

DOE’s goals for its USW-represented sites include:

  • Completing the cold commissioning of the first melter at Hanford for the waste treatment and immobilization plant. The melter heats the low-activity waste from the tanks and glass-forming materials.
  • Beginning the pre-treatment of tank waste through the tank-side cesium removal system at Hanford. The system removes radioactive cesium and solids from the tank waste.
  • Finishing the processing of 100 sodium-bearing waste containers at the integrated waste treatment unit at Idaho National Laboratory, and completing the retrieval of buried waste within the subsurface disposal area, a 97-acre landfill.
  • Finishing up construction of the new filter building for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s (WIPP) safety significant confinement ventilation system.
  • Completing 30 shipments of transuranic waste from Los Alamos to WIPP.
  • Completing 50 percent of the west access drift mining. Drifts are passages used for moving people, machines, waste and air through the underground WIPP mine.
  • Awarding two new contracts at WIPP that contractors can bid on for management and operations and transportation.
  • Finishing up the demolition of the X-326 process building at Portsmouth.
  • Disposing 1 million pounds of hazardous refrigerant at Paducah.

Pictured: Workers are emplacing barrels of transuranic waste at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N. M. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy. 

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