Noting that an increasing number of large components will need to be shipped from the growing number of nuclear power plants being decommissioned, Todd Eiler, director of decommissioning and decontamination engineering projects at EnergySolutions, said that the safety of nuclear waste transportation is paramount. “It is imperative as an industry that we do these shipments safely. There’s really no margin for error here,” Eiler said on March 11 during the 2021 Waste Management Symposia virtual conference panel session “Efficient and Effective Waste Management During the D&D of Nuclear Power Plants.”
While noting the stellar safety record of the nuclear industry in transporting radioactive waste, Eiler said that any incident involving a large component from a decommissioned nuclear reactor will cause national headlines, and that the industry needs to adopt a conservatism above and beyond what is already required by regulations.
As plant owners and decommissioning companies prepare to ship reactor components for disposal, Eiler said, entities that do not have direct regulatory oversight but may have some secondary involvement should not be overlooked. As an example, he said that when moving the San Onofre-1 reactor pressure vessel to Utah for disposal, EnergySolutions was not required by regulations to coordinate with the Federal Railroad Administration. “However, they are a stakeholder that definitely has authority over a project of that magnitude [where] you are transporting an irradiated component on the nation’s most in-demand rail infrastructure,” he said, adding that getting the administration’s input early in the project was important.
Transportation risks: In discussing risks in transporting reactor components for disposal, Eiler noted that route planning is extremely important. Road and rail construction, flooding or natural degradation, and changing regulations and permit requirements can all result in the need for rerouting of waste shipments. “The littlest thing can stop you dead in your tracks, and you need to plan for that,” he said.
Cost savings: Joseph Carignan, managing member of Carignan and Associates, said that in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, there are a number of cost-saving opportunities when shipping low-level radioactive waste for disposal. To take advantage of these savings, he said, the waste must be well managed, beginning with a solid knowledge of the site and the waste being generated. “You have to understand what you’re dealing with, and to do that you have to have a good characterization of your site,” he said.
According to Richard Reid, technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute, an important factor in packaging and shipping waste is handling the material as little as possible. “That saves not only cost, but it also improves safety,” he said. Some of the ways waste handling can be minimized, Reid explained, is by using large waste containers, packaging the waste close to where it is generated, and using staging areas for waste loading work.
Earlier sessions: During the opening session of the WMS on March 8, William “Ike” White, the DOE's acting assistant secretary for environmental management, described the DOE's Calendar Year 2021 Mission and Priorities.
On March 9, newly appointed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm addressed the WMS, and on March 10, a conference panel discussed the challenges and lessons learned in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.