Feds alter proposed nuclear cleanup contract in southeast Idaho


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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The U.S. Department of Energy has altered a proposed radioactive waste cleanup contract after potential bidders warned they could pull out of the process.

The agency last week issued a new plan that eliminated language requiring a contractor to pay for all cost overruns exceeding $150 million.

The Department of Energy's Idaho Cleanup Project Core, known as ICP Core, is a five-year contract that also includes watching over spent nuclear fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The new contract is set to begin in 2016 and consolidate responsibilities of the two primary nuclear waste contractors now working at the nuclear facility in southeast Idaho.

The two companies employ about 1,700 workers and have contracts worth about $3.5 billion. The two companies — CH2M-WG Idaho LLC and the Idaho Treatment Group — have contracts that expire Sept. 30, 2015.

"It is significant," Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper told the Post Register (http://www.postregister.com/node/70661). "And that's part of the reason why people are paying attention to the (ICP Core) contract and process from the local level all the way to the state and national level."

The federal agency hasn't yet released a final call for bids. It has requested comments by Jan. 14 on the latest draft before releasing a final version in February.

Bill Badger, a spokesman for CH2M Hill, said he couldn't comment on the company's plans.

"Definitely, the interest is still there," he said.

In a 1995 agreement struck between the federal government and then-Gov. Phil Batt, a Republican, the Department of Energy was required to remove all high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel from Idaho by 2035. The fear was that buried nuclear waste would seep into the huge Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that provides water to much of the state's agriculture industry.

But several problems have surfaced this year. Federal officials in November said a waste treatment facility planned to be operational by now won't be ready for months. The Department of Energy said malfunctions with the $571 million Integrated Waste Treatment Unit continue to cause delays turning 900,000 gallons of liquid waste into a solid form. The high-level radioactive waste came from processing spent nuclear fuel from U.S. Navy ships. Currently it's stored in tanks at the INL's Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center.

And the federal agency earlier this month said low-level radioactive waste that's supposed to be sent out of Idaho is backing up because an underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico is not taking shipments due to recent mishaps.

Officials said it's not clear when those shipments will resume.

Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com

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