Isotek, the Department of Energy contractor responsible for overseeing the inventory of uranium-233 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and preparing it for removal from the site, said it plans to resume preparations for processing high-dose U-233 in March. The company was forced to suspend its operational readiness review of the Initial Processing Campaign at Oak Ridge in January due to issues related to COVID-19, as well as difficulties operating in colder temperatures.
Part of the DOE’s U-233 Disposition Project, the Initial Processing Campaign will process high-dose U-233 using hot cells in ORNL’s Building 2026, downblending the material for disposal as low-level radioactive waste. The hot cells were recently upgraded solely for the purpose of processing the high-dose U-233.
An animated YouTube video explaining the U-233 Initial Processing Campaign is available online.
Eliminating the inventory of U-233 from ORNL is one of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s highest priorities, and in October 2021, Isotek completed a separate campaign to process low-dose U-233 using gloveboxes. Also, in partnership with TerraPower, Isotek is extracting thorium-229 from the U-233 material for cancer treatment research.
From the company: Isotek, a subsidiary of Atkins Nuclear Secured and SNC-Lavalin, released the following statement regarding the pause in its readiness review:
Isotek plans to resume the Contractor Operational Readiness Review in March. The review started in January but was suspended after key personnel on the project tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, during that time, the region experienced the coldest temperatures in a year. Some operational aspects associated with operating the new equipment had to be enhanced to account for these colder temperatures. Isotek has addressed these changes to operate in colder temperatures, and it is back to its full workforce with zero positive cases. Isotek is ready to resume the Contractor Operational Readiness Review. The Initial Processing Campaign will commence after successful completion of this review and the follow-on DOE Operational Readiness Review.