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Posts published in June 2016

CWI’s legacy


Mark Mendiola, a longtime eastern Idaho journalist, recently worked for the Idaho Cleanup Project.

When I first started covering the Idaho Cleanup Project’s many activities at the Idaho National Laboratory site for CH2M-WG Idaho (CWI) as a communications specialist in November 2009, it was especially reassuring for me to witness the high caliber of veteran employees who had racked up many decades of experience working with high levels of radioactivity in a very hazardous environment.

As a “boots-on-the-ground roving reporter” for CWI, I was privileged to experience first hand projects that took Herculean efforts and tremendous resourcefulness to complete, invariably weeks ahead of schedule and substantially under budget.

There was no task too formidable for teams of project managers, radiological control technicians, engineers, demolition workers, laborers, etc., to tackle. A can-do attitude, coupled with a mutual respect and genuine camaraderie among the ranks, combined to work wonders on the Arco Desert.

Stringent safety requirements took top precedence throughout the company and were interwoven throughout CWI’s cultural fabric. Everyone covered each other’s back so all the employees could return safely to their families at the close of business each day. That commendable attitude impressed me from day one. Achieving safety records without lost time injuries for countless employee hours was the norm.

With camera in tow and notebook in hand, I was charged with regularly visiting the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC), the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC), the Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC), the Idaho CERCLA Disposal Facility (ICDF) and the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) area to chronicle the many successful projects under way at each facility. It was an enviable assignment few have had the opportunity to experience.

Many of the projects undertaken by CWI proved to be groundbreaking and even revolutionary in terms of the technology and procedures developed to address specific challenges. During CWI’s 11 years managing the ICP, it often would take the lead among U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) contractors nationwide and counterparts internationally in introducing standards that have become the norm in the nuclear industry.

It was CWI that proved -- and improved on -- a patented sodium treatment process using spritzing, distilling and immersing techniques at MFC and INTEC now used throughout the DOE complex.

Its intrepid Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) workers safely demolished or removed three nuclear reactors, two hot cells, a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility and more than 200 other buildings and structures over the course of CWI’s DOE contract.

It was astounding a few months ago to watch the massive jaws of heavy equipment skillfully run by D&D operators rip apart and voraciously devour a large MFC building in only a matter of hours like mechanical tyrannosaurus rexes, leaving a Jurassic Park graveyard of metal beams, siding and insulation strewn about in their wake.

They and their co-workers are now concentrating on dismantling the iconic Experimental Breeder Reactor II dome, using an innovative water jet cutting system to peel it like a giant onion before the year ends.

Waste Management personnel, including Packaging and Transportation employees, completed 364 shipments of Remote-Handled Transuranic (RH-TRU) waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, including the first-ever shipment of such waste there, and completed 60 U-233 shipments to the Nevada National Security Site without incident.

RWMC employees exhumed 4.11 acres of 5.69 acres (72 percent) of buried waste required by a 2008 agreement with 97 percent of the 7,485 cubic meters of targeted waste packaged, completing buried waste exhumation at seven Accelerated Retrieval Project (ARP) areas. Work now continues at the Subsurface Disposal Area’s eighth ARP site. Some 7,300 drums and 60 waste boxes have been successfully treated.

CWI Environmental Restoration workers have remediated 136 waste sites and suspected waste sites. They also have reduced 184,400 acres of potential unexploded ordnance areas to 6,300 acres, which protects crews that work out in the sagebrush.

At INTEC, 3,186 units of spent nuclear fuel were transferred from wet to dry storage, and a tank farm where 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing liquid waste are stored underground has been successfully closed. And the list continues …

Even the controversial Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) painstakingly developed from the ground up by CWI has achieved significant strides in advance of processing those 900,000 gallons with state-of-the-art technology. Simulant runs have proven feasible at the 53,000-square-foot facility before the liquid waste is converted into a more stable form. The finish line for that grueling marathon is actually within sight.

Last February, DOE awarded a $1.4 billion, five-year contract for managing the ICP to Texas-based Fluor Idaho, which took effect on June 1. Coinciding with that new contract, many long-time CWI employees have decided to hang it up and retire, including many key managers and engineers who have worked on the IWTU project virtually since its inception.

With the departure of so many seasoned CWI employees occurring at once, a legacy of invaluable experience, an unrivaled safety record and institutional knowledge not easily replaced also is exiting. They professionally transformed a work site fraught with danger into one of DOE’s safest locations with minimal damage or injury.

It’s been my privilege and pleasure to have worked with such a diversified group of talented CWI individuals, ranging from project managers and subcontractors to information technologists, accountants and administrative assistants. Cherished friendships have been nurtured within CWI’s tight knit family. The end of the CWI era leaves some mighty big boots for Fluor Idaho to fill.

Veep flytrap


Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president was from Texas, and was the Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner. His claim to fame is he once said the job “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Yet, when offered the post he took it. The thought of being just a heartbeat away proved to be too tempting. Besides presiding over the Senate and casting a vote only when there is a tie, that along with being a “president in waiting,” is the total job description.

While former President Bill Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, claims to be the one who turned the office into a more powerful and influential institution, this claim, just as his claim to have invented the “internet,” is a bit exaggerated.

Of the modern vice presidents (since 1945) the one who did the most to make the office more influential within government and more powerful within the White House was Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s vice president. The key of course is having both an excellent working relationship and a high degree of personal trust. Without those components the post becomes just a box on an organization chart.

The vice presidents who have succeeded in being an asset all have in common the ability to be genuinely loyal to their president and have not tried to improve their public image at the expense of the Boss they serve. The demands of the modern presidency are such that any president can assign plenty of work to a true partner.

Of the 47 men who have served as vice president, 14 have become president, so it is a bit of a myth that being vice president is the easiest path to the White House. Since 1945, though, five did become president: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

Ironically, a vice presidential prospect sometimes gets more vetted than any presidential candidate. This is due not just to the fact the person might ascend to the office but also because selecting a running mate is now the first crucial decision showing judgment (or lack thereof) that the media holds up as a key criteria for a presumptive president. Arizona Senator John McCain’s disastrous selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 is one example, as is South Dakota Senator George McGovern’s selection of Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton (Over Idaho Senator Frank Church), who had to withdraw after being caught withholding information about psychological treatments for depression.

Right now the great parlor game within the Beltway is trying to guess who the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees will select as their running mates. I’ve been dead wrong on almost all my “crystal ball” predictions so far this year, so I’ve nothing to lose by continuing to guess.

Conventional Wisdom says no Republican has ever won the White House without taking the state of Ohio. So, if presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump believes that to be true he has to be thinking about Ohio Governor John Kasich or Senator Rob Portman, both solid, moderate progressive Republicans who could help deliver Ohio but being on the ticket will not thrill the core conservatives that form the party’s base.

Trump has been everything but conventional this year. So why turn conventional?

The answer is he won’t. Look for the the Trumpster to surprise with the selection of someone who has never been elected to public office but already has some fairly good name recognition and fairly high favorabilities - like Dr. Ben Carson. or movie actor Mel Gibson or conservative radio host Glen Beck.

What about Hillary? Odds are she will go with a conventional pick. It won’t be Bernie, that’s for sure. Even if Bernie wins the June 7th California and Oregon primaries, she still has too much of a lead and unless there is a massive defection by the Super-delegates, suddenly worried that Hillary can’t win, the D’s will stick with Hillary and she will try to stick it to Bernie. In her mind he has stayed in too long to her detriment.

If Mrs. Clinton does the conventional many observers expect her to strengthen her standing within the Hispanic community and underscore Trump’s idiotic immigration plan by choosing one of several outstanding Latino legislators. If wagering go with California congressman Xavier Becerra. He is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a member of the powerful Ways and Means committee and was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission (along with Idaho Senator Mike Crapo).
Another safe conventional pick would be Ohio’s Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown.

If, however, Mrs. Clinton wants to show she can be bold and go outside the box, she should look at a white male she knows well who could capably step in if called upon, someone who has the brains and ability with whom she previously worked well with; someone, however,who has never run for public office but nonetheless is a masterful political strategist and can give one hell uv a good speech, someone who could capture youth because he is still a “youngster,” someone right under her nose - Idaho’s Bruce Reed.

Refugees without fear

A guest reading from David Warnick, who is a minister at Coeur d'Alene and a third-generation Idahoan.

Fear is a funny thing.

No one in my neighborhood would feel any fear if I walk past. I look like what I am – a middle-aged (well, maybe older) conservative white guy. But I’m afraid they might react to my houseguests.


Because my wife and I decided to take a couple from Syria and their 6-year-old special-needs son into our home while their host agency found them a place to live.

I was afraid of my neighbors’ reactions, so I walked the family to the park with trepidation. I didn’t mention the situation to many people at my workplace.

Yet five minutes with this family would eliminate any possibility of fear. The husband doesn’t speak much English, but even in his first night in our home, he proclaimed with a big smile and an expansive gesture, “I love America.”

His wife taught children English in Syria. But she adds, “I forgot it all during the three years of darkness.”

I’m not sure if she means the first three years of their son’s life as they discovered his diagnosis of autism, or the past three years, which they spent in Cairo after fleeing Syria. They lived in one room on the roof of a six-floor walk-up apartment building – one room without any windows.

When we would hit a communication roadblock, Google Translate was wonderful. There were limitations – the husband was trying to explain they wanted a dimmer lamp. Google Translate said “bulb monastery”!

Early on they offered me some of their coffee. I tried to explain I don’t drink coffee because of my Mormon father’s influence. At first, they thought “Mormon” was a coffee ingredient I was allergic to! Once clarified, they could tell me Mitt Romney was Mormon.

And their son? He speaks only a couple of words of Arabic, when he’s calm. If he gets overstimulated, he makes only noises. I was constantly on guard at the park, where he loves to swing, because I knew he would not understand if someone were to shout at him.

He loves to caress his father’s hair. He started doing the same to me, to show affection, so I went along like a good sport. We were able to arrange a couple of meetings with other immigrants from the area. I haven’t gotten comfortable with the male practice of giving each other a kiss on each cheek. But I could handle kisses from their son.

My Swedish ancestors were persecuted when they arrived because they followed a religion – Mormonism – that was poorly understood. Fortunately, enough people helped them along the way so that part of the family survived cholera and made it to Utah.

I pray there are enough people to welcome our guests so they can find the new life they’re longing to give their boy.

I guess love is a funny thing, too. What else would allow us to overcome fear?