From 1953 to 1988, wastewater containing approximately 0.94 curies of iodine-129 (129I) was generated at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in southeastern Idaho. Almost all of this wastewater was discharged at or near the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) on the INL site. Most of the wastewater was discharged directly into the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer through a deep disposal well until 1984; however, some wastewater also was discharged into unlined infiltration ponds or leaked from distribution systems below the INTEC.
In 2003, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, collected samples for 129I from 36 wells used to monitor the Snake River Plain aquifer, and from one well used to monitor a perched zone at the INTEC. Concentrations of 129I in the aquifer ranged from 0.0000066 +- 0.0000002 to 0.72 +- 0.051 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Many wells within a 3-mile radius of the INTEC showed decreases of as much as one order of magnitude in concentration from samples collected during 1990-91, and all of the samples had concentrations less than the Environmental Protection Agency's Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1 pCi/L. The average concentration of 129I in 19 wells sampled during both collection periods decreased from 0.975 pCi/L in 1990-91 to 0.249 pCi/L in 2003. These decreases are attributed to the discontinuation of disposal of 129I in wastewater after 1988 and to dilution and dispersion in the aquifer.
Although water from wells sampled in 2003 near the INTEC showed decreases in concentrations of 129I compared with data collected in 1990-91, some wells south and east of the Central Facilities Area, near the site boundary, and south of the INL showed slight increases. These slight increases may be related to variable discharge rates of wastewater that eventually moved to these well locations as a mass of water from a particular disposal period.
In 2007, the USGS collected samples for 129I from 36 wells that are used to monitor the aquifer south of INTEC and from 2 wells that are used to monitor perched zones at INTEC. Concentrations of 129I in the eastern Snake River Plain aquifer ranged from 0.000026 +- 0.000002 to 1.16 +- 0.04 pCi/L, and the concentration at one well exceeded the maximum contaminant level (1 pCi/L) for public drinking water supplies. The average concentration of 19 wells sampled in 2003 and 2007 did not differ; however, slight increases and decreases of concentrations in several areas around the INTEC were evident in the aquifer. The decreases are attributed to the discontinued disposal and to dilution and dispersion in the aquifer. The increases may be due to the movement into the aquifer of remnant perched water below the INTEC.
In 2007, the USGS also collected samples from 31 zones in 6 wells equipped with multi-level WestbayTM packer sampling systems to help define the vertical distribution of 129I in the aquifer. Concentrations ranged from 0.000011 +- 0.0000005 to 0.0167 +- 0.0007 pCi/L. For three wells, concentrations of 129I between zones varied one to two orders of magnitude. For two wells, concentrations varied for one zone by more than an order of magnitude from the wells' other zones. Similar concentrations were measured from all five zones sampled in one well. All of the 31 zones had concentrations two or more magnitudes below the maximum contaminant level.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Iodine-129 in the Snake River Plain Aquifer at and Near the Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho, 2003 and 2007