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Nuclear Lab Gets Cleaner Water - But Less of It

Advanced Test Reactor
Idaho National Laboratory

A toxic legacy of cold war-era  nuclear production is gradually washing away at the Idaho National Laboratory. The manager of the U-S Geological Survey office at the sprawling INL desert headquarters said a long-running and expensive clean up of old, left over radioactive waste is paying off.

Roy Bartholomay said that water wells around the huge complex - more than 200 of them - are beginning to show less contamination after about 30 years of clean up work. His technicians focused on 99 INL wells which were most heavily affected by nuclear waste buried in shallow pits. They were most worried about a radioactive stew of tritium, strontium-90, organic carbons and volatile organic compounds.

A new report issued last week confirmed that reformed waste disposal methods adopted over the last several decades have cut levels of tritium and strontium-90. In addition to the nuclear contamination which fouled many wells in the arid area, USGS scientists have documented another, perhaps more serious problem with the Snake River Plain aquifer which underlies most of the region. The aquifer is dropping rapidly. Last summer, water tables had fallen to record-low levels because of a persistent - and still unbroken drought - in the southern and central Idaho region.

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