Savannah River Site moves closer to closing F Tank Farm

Workers at the Savannah River Site’s F Tank Farm (FTF) are preparing to close radioactive waste tanks, according to a March 2 release from SRS. The last time a waste tank was closed at the farm was in April 2016.

The FTF is a 22-acre site that contains 22 of the 51 tanks spanning two SRS tank farms. (The separate-site H Tank Farm houses the remaining 29 tanks.) The FTF’s 22 tanks are below-grade, carbon steel and reinforced concrete tanks that store or previously have stored liquid radioactive waste generated at SRS, in South Carolina.

Search for new Hanford tank waste contractor begins

Workers retrieve waste from a single-shell tank at the Hanford Site earlier this year. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has issued a draft request for proposals for the new Integrated Tank Disposition Contract at the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. The 10-year, $26.5 billion contract will replace the Tank Operations Contract currently held by Washington River Protection Solutions, and the scope will be expanded to include the operation of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) after radiological, or “hot,” commissioning of the plant is completed.

The DOE had awarded a tank closure contract to a team led by BWX Technologies in May of last year, but later rescinded that decision after protests were raised by the two losing contract bidders.

About 56 million gallons of radioactive waste is contained in Hanford’s 177 aging underground tanks. The WTP, which is still under construction, will vitrify the waste after it has been separated into low- and high-activity waste streams.

Demolition of former radioisotope lab underway at ORNL

A view of the demolition of a hot cell inside a protective cover at the former radioisotope development lab at ORNL. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and contractor UCOR have begun removing the two remaining structures at the former radioisotope development laboratory at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee.

“This project launches our next phase of major demolition and cleanup at ORNL,” said Nathan Felosi, ORNL’s portfolio federal project director for OREM. “Our work is eliminating contaminated structures, like this one, that are on DOE’s list of high-risk facilities and clearing space for future research missions.”

The project is scheduled to be completed this spring, OREM reported on February 23.

EPA awards $220 million in uranium mine cleanup contracts

The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded three contracts for cleanup efforts at more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites in and around the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. The Navaho Area Abandoned Mine Remedial Construction and Services Contracts, worth up to $220 million over the next five years, were awarded to the Red Rock Remediation Joint Venture, Environmental Quality Management, and Arrowhead Contracting, the agency announced on February 11.

According to the EPA, the cleanup work is slated to begin later this year, following the completion of assessments in coordination with the Navajo Nation EPA, the tribe’s environmental agency. The sites are in New Mexico’s Grants Mining District and 10 Navajo Nation chapters. The companies selected have experience working on hazardous waste sites across the country, including cleaning up other abandoned mine sites in the Southwest, the EPA said.

Hanford subcontractor to support transfer of radioactive capsules to dry storage

A subcontractor has been selected to continue making modifications to a Hanford facility to transfer nearly 2,000 highly radioactive capsules to safer interim dry storage.

Central Plateau Cleanup Company, the Department of Energy’s prime cleanup contractor for the Central Plateau area of the Hanford Site, near Richland, Wash., recently awarded a $9.5 million construction subcontract to Apollo Mechanical Contractors. Apollo will continue work on the site’s Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility (WESF), where nearly 2,000 highly radioactive capsules containing cesium and strontium are stored underwater.

Apollo will modify the WESF and install equipment needed to transfer the radioactive capsules from a water-filled basin to safer interim dry storage. In the 1970s, to reduce the temperature of the waste inside Hanford’s waste tanks, cesium and strontium were removed from the tanks and moved to the WESF. The DOE expects that the transfer of the capsules to dry storage will be completed by 2025.

“While the 1,936 cesium and strontium capsules are currently in safe storage, WESF is an aging facility,” said Gary Pyles, project manager for the DOE’s Richland Operations Office. “Moving the capsules will enable the planned deactivation of WESF and will reduce the risk and significantly reduce the annual costs for storing the capsules.”

Beyond Nuclear appeals NRC decision in Texas CISF licensing proceeding

The antinuclear organization Beyond Nuclear is appealing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s dismissal of its petition to intervene in the proceeding for Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) application to build and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in western Texas. Beyond Nuclear filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on February 10, asking the court to order the dismissal of the license application.

ISP, a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and Orano, submitted its application for the CISF with the NRC in June 2018. In September 2018, Beyond Nuclear filed a motion to dismiss the application. An NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denied Beyond Nuclear’s request for a hearing in the licensing proceedings, and in December 2020, the NRC issued an order upholding that decision.

Savannah River crews remove cesium columns from tank closure unit

Work crews remove the first column filled with cesium from the Tank Closure Cesium Removal unit by crane in H tank farm at the Savannah River Site. Photo: DOE

Columns filled with cesium have been removed at the Savannah River Site in a demonstration project designed to accelerate removal of radioactive salt waste from underground tanks.

“On the surface, it appeared to be like any other crane lift and equipment transport, which are routinely performed in the tank farms. However, this equipment contained cesium-rich, high-level waste, which was transported aboveground via roadway to an on-site interim safe storage pad,” said Savannah River Remediation (SRR) president and project manager Phil Breidenbach. “It was all handled safely and executed with outstanding teamwork by our highly skilled workforce.”

Operated by liquid waste contractor SRR, a system known as the Tank Closure Cesium Removal (TCCR) unit removes cesium from the salt waste in Tank 10 in the site's H Tank Farm. The TCCR is a pilot demonstration that helps accelerate tank closure at the site, according to a report by the Department of Energy on February 9.

DOE gets go-ahead to build spent fuel/high-level waste railcars

Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask. Image: DOE

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) recently gave the Department of Energy approval to begin building and testing Fortis, a high-tech railcar designed specifically to transport the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Fortis is one of two specialized railcars under development by the DOE that could be operational within the next five years.

Fortis is an eight-axle, flat-deck railcar that will be able to transport large containers of spent fuel and HLW. It is equipped with high-tech sensors and monitoring systems that report 11 different performance features back to the operators in real time. The railcar design was completed earlier this year, with technical support from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

According to the DOE, AAR signed off on the design in January, allowing the department to begin fabricating and testing the prototype in compliance with the rail industry’s highest design standard for railcars transporting spent fuel and HLW.

NRC report updates decommissioning cost guidance

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has updated its guidance for nuclear power plant owners and operators in estimating the cost of decommissioning their reactors. Licensed power reactor operators are required under NRC regulations to annually adjust the estimated costs (in current year dollars) of decommissioning their plants to ensure that adequate funds are available when needed.

NUREG-1307, Revision 18, Report on Waste Burial Charges: Changes in Decommissioning Waste Disposal Costs at Low-Level Waste Burial Facilities, issued on February 3, explains the formula acceptable to the NRC for determining the minimum decommissioning fund requirements for nuclear power reactor licensees. Specifically, NUREG-1307 provides the adjustment factor and updates the values for the labor, energy, and waste burial escalation factors of the minimum formula.

NNSA extends comment period on scope of “dilute and dispose” EIS

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration has extended to February 18 the public comment period for the scoping of its planned environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program, which would dilute and dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus military grade plutonium.

The NNSA on December 16 announced its intent to prepare the EIS, which will examine the agency’s preferred alternative, “dilute and dispose,” also known as “plutonium downblending,” and other alternatives for disposing of the material. The NNSA has been pursuing the dilute-and-dispose approach to managing the surplus plutonium following the cancellation of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the DOE’s Savannah River Site.

Study finds Estonia’s geology suitable for borehole repository

A preliminary study conducted by the nuclear waste storage and disposal startup company Deep Isolation found that Estonia’s geology is capable of safely hosting a deep horizontal borehole repository for radioactive waste from advanced nuclear reactors.

The study, commissioned by advanced reactor deployment company Fermi Energia, found no fundamental geologic limitations to disposing of nuclear waste in deep horizontal boreholes, according to Deep Isolation. In addition, the study noted that a wide range of locations could be demonstrated to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations for geologic disposal.

The findings: Results of the study, which was conducted in collaboration with Estonian geologic and drilling company Engineering Bureau STEIGER, will be presented as part of Fermi Energia’s one-day conference on small modular reactors, "New Generation Nuclear Energy in Estonia," on February 9. Registration for the event is available online.

ANS weighs in on NNSA’s Pu disposition plan

The American Nuclear Society is urging the National Nuclear Security Administration to rethink its “dilute-and-dispose” plan for managing surplus weapons-grade plutonium. In comments submitted to the NNSA, ANS notes that a better solution for the agency’s inventory of surplus plutonium is to convert it to nuclear fuel for advanced reactors, as was originally intended.

The comments are in response to a December 16 Federal Register notice by the NNSA that it intends to prepare an environmental impact statement on the scope of its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program. According to the notice, the NNSA intends to dispose of the entire 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using its dilute-and-dispose approach, whereby the material will be downblended and shipped as transuranic waste to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, signed by the United States and Russia in 2000, the 34 tons of plutonium was to be converted to mixed-oxide nuclear fuel using the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, in South Carolina. However, the Obama administration, citing rising costs, halted construction on the facility in 2016, and the project was eventually canceled in 2019.

Columbia University report sets out nuclear waste policy options

A new report out of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) offers a number of recommendations for improving the management of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States.

The report, Forging a Path Forward on U.S. Nuclear Waste Management: Options for Policy Makers, explains how the United States reached its current stalemate over nuclear waste disposal. It then examines productive approaches in other countries, and a few domestic ones, that could guide policymakers through options for improving the prospects for finding a disposal path for U.S. spent fuel and HLW.

Part of the center’s wider work on nuclear energy, the report echoes previous recommendations for U.S. spent fuel and HLW management, such as the use of a consent-based siting process and the formation of an independent waste management organization, both of which were recommended in the Blue Ribbon Commission’s 2012 report to the Secretary of Energy and Stanford University’s 2018 report, Reset of U.S. Nuclear Waste Management Strategy and Policy.

Y-12 cleanup project recovers, reuses mercury

Crews cleaned and demolished COLEX equipment on the west end of the Alpha-4 building at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and its contractor UCOR have found a way to reuse instead of dispose of mercury collected from a cleanup project at the Y-12 National Security Complex, near Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. “This questioning attitude and innovative thinking by our workforce is a major contributor to how our program is able to accomplish its projects under budget and ahead of schedule on a consistent basis,” said OREM manager Jay Mullis.

The DOE is conducting a number of projects to address mercury contamination—the most significant environmental risk is at Y-12, according to the agency. The work includes the cleanout and removal of equipment at Y-12's Alpha-4, a building that was used initially for uranium separation in 1944 and 1945. Ten years later, the building started being used for lithium separation, a process that required large amounts of mercury and involved column exchange (COLEX) equipment. Over the years, a significant amount of mercury from the process leached into the equipment, buildings, and surrounding soils.

Waste transport system testing underway at Hanford

A screen capture from a video that shows "bogie" testing in action. Source: DOE

Startup engineers at the Hanford Site’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) have been performing mechanical equipment testing on the two units that make up the “bogie,” or cart transport rail system, in the lower level of the Low-Activity Waste (LAW) facility.

During future plant operations, containers will be filled with vitrified radioactive and chemical waste and placed on the bogie transport rail that leads to the facility’s finishing line area before the containers are moved to storage.

To date, all 94 systems in the LAW facility have been turned over to startup, and 38 of those have been handed over for commissioning, according to the DOE on January 26.

View this video to learn more about the transport system testing.

Initial Los Alamos comingled TRU waste delivered to WIPP

Workers at LANL's RANT facility load the first comingled TRU waste shipment from the DOE and the NNSA. Photo: DOE

The Los Alamos field offices of the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management and the National Nuclear Security Administration have completed their first comingled shipment of transuranic (TRU) waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

"Comingling NNSA and EM waste allows for more efficient shipments to WIPP," Kirk Lachman, EM Los Alamos field office manager, said on January 14. "Reducing LANL’s above-ground waste inventory is an important issue to our local communities and is one of our mission priorities.”

The comingled shipment consisted of one Transuranic Package Transporter Model 3 container with a total of 28 drums and containers inside.

New York sues NRC over Indian Point decommissioning

Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, N.Y. Photo: Entergy Nuclear

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit on behalf of the State of New York against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the sale of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to subsidiaries of Holtec International for decommissioning.

Filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on January 22, the suit challenges the NRC’s denial of New York’s petition for a hearing regarding the transfer of Indian Point’s licenses from owner Entergy to Holtec, as well as the NRC’s initial approval of the license transfer. The NRC approved the transfer in November 2020 while challenges from the state and other groups were still being adjudicated. The NRC issued its order denying New York’s petition to intervene on January 15.

The transfer of ownership of the plant from Entergy to Holtec is targeted to occur after Indian Point-3 shuts down in April 2021. Indian Point-2 permanently ceased operations in April 2020, and Indian Point-1 has been shut down since 1974. The pressurized-water reactors are located in Buchanan, N.Y., approximately 24 miles north of New York City.

Savannah River’s Salt Waste Processing Facility begins full operations

An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility at SRS. Photo: DOE

The hot commissioning testing phase of operations at the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) has been completed, signaling the facility’s entrance into fully integrated operations with the other liquid waste facilities at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Radiation shielding, environmental emissions, and product waste acceptance requirements were all tested and validated during the commissioning phase of the SWPF, the DOE announced on January 19. The SWPF will treat the approximately 31 million gallons of remaining salt waste currently stored in underground tanks at SRS.

Parsons Corporation, the contractor that designed and built the first-of-a-kind facility, will operate the SWPF for one year, beginning this month. It is anticipated that the facility will process up to 6 million gallons of waste during the first year of operations.

U.K., Japan to research remote D&D, fusion systems

The LongOps project will develop innovative robotic technologies. Photo: UKAEA

Britain and Japan have signed a research and technology deployment collaboration to help automate nuclear decommissioning and aspects of fusion energy production. According to the U.K. government, which announced the deal on January 20, the £12 million (about $16.5 million) U.K.–Japanese robotics project, called LongOps, will support the delivery of faster and safer decommissioning at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan and at Sellafield in the United Kingdom, using long-reach robotic arms.

The four-year collaboration on new robotics and automation techniques will also be applied to fusion energy research in the two countries.

Funded equally by U.K. Research and Innovation, the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company, the LongOps project will be led by the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) facility.