Scientists report on the current state of INEEL's nuclear waste contamination

03/30/04

From microorganisms to geophysical imaging, 17 research papers published in Vadose Zone Journal reveal the complex environmental problems at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory



MADISON, WI, MARCH 30, 2004 – Although none of the cleanup, closure, and future monitoring issues at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) site has been fully resolved, extensive current research in a special section of the February edition of Vadose Zone Journal (VZJ), does address the subsurface and associated contamination issues at the INEEL. The research reported in this issue, as well as other research at the site form a strong basis of knowledge upon which cleanup and closure are being based. Papers present the current understanding of the subsurface at the INEEL site as well as specific contamination, characterization, and modeling issues.

Originally, the INEEL site, which is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facility, was used as a test-fire naval gunnery range during World War II. Following the war, the site was used for the development and demonstration of nuclear energy. In recent years, research at the INEEL has focused on environmental issues. For more than 50 years, nuclear energy research was conducted and the size of the site grew.

The site, soon be renamed the Idaho National Laboratory, is in a remote location of the U.S. and therefore, it was also used for disposal of wastes containing radioactive and hazardous materials. Some of these compounds have traveled over 170 miles downward through fractured basalt and unconsolidated sediments to the underlying Snake River Aquifer, which is the major underground water resource in Idaho. The subsurface contamination has resulted from direct injection of waste into the aquifer and from compounds migrating from waste sites and disposal ponds located near the soil surface, through the vadose zone, which is the mostly unsaturated zone between the soil surface and the permanent groundwater table.

The research papers contained in this special issue of VZJ include:

  • In the introductory paper, current cleanup activities and a look forward toward research activities at the INEEL are briefly discussed. There is also a brief overview of the papers in the special section of the Vadose Zone Journal about the INEEL site.
  • Three review-type papers discuss the geologic setting, the hydraulic and geochemical setting, and a conceptual model of water movement in the vadose zone. The conceptual model is largely based on prior field studies conducted at the INEEL and long-term monitoring data at the site.
  • Three papers address water flow through fractures, which are common in the basalt underlying the INEEL. Water recharge to the Snake River Aquifer and associated transport of contaminants is a major issue and focus of research at the INEEL.
  • Two papers deal with characterization and monitoring that has application to deep (thick) vadose zones, such as at the INEEL. In one paper, the authors discuss barometric effects on water level measurements and in the other paper, the authors discuss the use of advanced tensiometers.
  • A paper surveying advances in geophysical methods for imaging subsurface properties and processes at the INEEL and other DOE sites. Better geophysical imaging is important for developing effective cleanup strategies at contaminated sites.
  • Two papers address microorganisms in the vadose zone and a paper addressing effects of a management practice of applying brine to unpaved roadways in a waste management complex on subsurface chemical properties.
  • There is a paper describing the waste management complex, in a large-scale controlled experiment designed to simulate conditions at the complex.
  • Three papers describing modeling approaches to forecast fluid flow and contaminant transport in porous media. One of the papers discusses the need to evaluate conceptual uncertainty before evaluating parametric uncertainty when conducting regulatory-driven modeling. In the paper, the authors assess conceptual uncertainty of several processes for conditions at a major subsurface waste disposal area at the INEEL. The other two modeling papers present approaches that could be used at the INEEL or any other site.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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