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Radioactive soil from Australia is destined for an Idaho facility

Aerial view of an arid landscape with agricultural fields and a river running through the middle
Wikimedia Commons
Grand View, ID, home to a waste site that accepts hazardous material, is located about 50 miles south of Boise on the Snake River.

Radioactive soil in Australia is being excavated and shipped to a waste disposal facility in Idaho. The soil was polluted from a carbolic acid plant and uranium refinery that operated a century ago and is located in a suburb of Sydney.

The low-level radioactive waste will go to US Ecology's Grand View site in southwest Idaho. The news has been a relief for Australian residents living on the soil, but has raised a concern among some in the Gem State.

Tami Thatcher is a nuclear safety consultant for Environmental Defense Institute and former nuclear safety analyst at Idaho National Laboratory.

"Whenever you become aware of how radioactive waste is shipped from around the country and from around the world to Idaho, it's kind of alarming," said Thatcher.

Excavation of the contaminated soil began in September and is expected to take 18 to 24 months. It totals about 1,900 tons.

A spokesperson for US Ecology says the soil and debris are contaminated with a very low level of naturally occurring radioactive material but fall well below the established criteria in the company's Idaho permit.

Thatcher said there have been concerns about US Ecology's Grand View operations. In 2018, an explosion at the site killed one person and injured three others.

"They've never admitted where the waste came from," said Thatcher. "What type of waste it was and why it is - when they mixed their magnesium oxide to neutralize the waste - it blew sky high."

An investigation into the explosion found there was "non-conforming waste" included in material that was not supposed to be part of the waste stream.

US Ecology is the only commercial hazardous waste landfill operating to Idaho. According to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the facility received nearly 110,000 tons of waste in 2020, 96% of which came from outside the state or country.