Energy Northwest's nuclear power plant is generating less hazardous chemical waste than at any time in its 27-year history as it works to reduce its environmental footprint.
The state of Washington regulates the industry based on whether they qualify as large, medium or small waste generators.
The Columbia Generating Station near Richland has managed to drop its designation from large to medium. The designation for the nuclear plant covers hazardous chemical waste typical of industrial use such as paints, solvents and oils, and a small amount of hazardous chemical waste mixed with radioactive material.
To qualify, the nuclear power plant near Richland needed to drop its hazardous waste to a total of 2,200 pounds of newly generated waste combined with stored waste per month.
"We've been tracking waste for a couple of years to see if we can reduce generation and get below the limit for medium-quantity generation," said Robert Nielson, supervisor of environmental and regulatory programs for Energy Northwest.
The plant produces carbon-free energy and wanted to look at other aspects of its operation to reduce its impact on the environment, he said.
"Our interest is really to increase trust for the stakeholders and public," Nielson said.
But there also have been side benefits, including reduced costs for waste disposal, reduced training related to hazardous waste and less stringent regulation.
Large-quantity hazardous waste generators can only accumulate waste for 90 days, but that time period is doubled for medium-quantity generators.
Energy Northwest now has a robust chemical approval process to determine if there is an easy-to-dispose-of option for a solvent or other chemical being purchased. The plant also has been able to purchase a type of heat exchange fluid for use in portions of the plant that is not considered a hazardous chemical.
The nuclear plant has rigid requirements for some of the coatings and paints it uses. But if a latex-based paint, which typically is not a hazardous chemical, will work, that's what is purchased and used.
In addition, the plant has switched to new valve-cleaning solvents. It buys non-regulated solvent, and when that becomes contaminated, it's distilled to separate out metals and minimize the volume of hazardous waste produced.