U.S., Canada complete nuclear material shipping effort

A four-year campaign to repatriate 161 kilograms of highly enriched uranium liquid target residue material (TRM) from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., has been completed, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) announced on January 12.

The campaign was conducted under the U.S.-Origin Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance Program, established in 1996 to return U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel and other weapons-grade nuclear material from civilian sites worldwide. Other partners involved in the effort included the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), and Savannah River National Laboratory as well as state and tribal governments.

The TRM is the by-product of the production of medical isotopes from AECL’s now-shuttered National Research Universal reactor. The repatriation of the material, begun in 2017 and completed in 2020, involved 115 separate truck shipments, covering some 150,000 miles, according to the announcements.

The year in review 2020: Waste Management

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Waste Management section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Waste Management section

  • First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge: The completion of the decades-long effort to clean up the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was celebrated on October 13, with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette joining U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and other state and community leaders at the East Tennessee Technology Park, where the uranium enrichment complex once stood. Read more.

Reclassification of HLW could reduce risks while saving billions, DOE says

An engineered stainless steel container designed to hold LLW at Hanford. Photo: Bechtel National, Inc.

A Department of Energy report to the U.S. Congress shows that the reclassification of high-level radioactive waste could save more than $200 billion in treatment and disposal costs while allowing DOE sites to be cleaned up sooner—all still without jeopardizing public health and safety.

The report, Evaluation of Potential Opportunities to Classify Certain Defense Nuclear Waste from Reprocessing as Other than High-Level Radioactive Waste, identifies potential opportunities for the DOE to reduce risk to public and environment while completing its cleanup mission more efficiently and effectively. Those opportunities are based on the DOE’s 2019 interpretation of the statutory term HLW, which classifies waste based on its radiological characteristics rather than its origin.

Under the DOE’s interpretation of HLW, waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel may be determined to be non-HLW if the waste (1) does not exceed concentration limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste as set out in federal regulations and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility; or (2) does not require disposal in a deep geologic repository and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility as demonstrated through a performance assessment conducted in accordance with applicable requirements.

Palisades license transfer request submitted to NRC

The Palisades nuclear plant will be permanently retired in the spring of next year. Photo: Entergy Nuclear

Entergy Corporation and Holtec International have jointly submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval of the transfer of the licenses for the Palisades nuclear plant, in Covert, Mich., to Holtec, following the plant’s permanent shutdown and defueling in the spring of 2022.

The application, dated December 23, also requests approval of the license transfer of Entergy’s decommissioned Big Rock Point facility near Charlevoix, Mich., where only the independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) remains.

NRC withdraws LLW rule interpretation

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has withdrawn a proposed interpretation of its low-level radioactive waste regulations that would have permitted licensees to dispose of waste by transferring it to persons who hold specific NRC exemptions. “The proposal is being withdrawn based on the NRC staff’s assessment that the proposed changes may not benefit the regulatory framework for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste,” the NRC said in a December 17 Federal Register notice.

After releasing the proposed rule for public comment on March 6, 2020, the NRC received about 200 individual comment submissions and approximately 15,000 form letter submissions, the vast majority of which were in opposition to the proposed rule.

“We have strongly disputed the argument by various groups who misrepresented the proposal as deregulation of radioactive waste disposal,” NRC spokesperson David McIntyre told the Courthouse News Service. “This would not have changed anything, just made an existing case-by-case approval process more efficient.”

NNSA to review its “dilute and dispose” option for surplus Pu

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration intends to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating alternatives for the safe disposal of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium through its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The NNSA published in the December 16 Federal Register its intent to prepare the EIS, which will examine the agency’s preferred alternative, “dilute and dispose,” also known as “plutonium downblending,” and other identified alternatives for disposing of the material.

The NNSA is offering the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed scope of the EIS until February 1. In light of the COVID-19 health crisis, the agency will host an Internet- and phone-based virtual public scoping meeting in place of an in-person meeting. The date of the meeting will be provided in a future notice posted on the NNSA website.

NRC issues draft decommissioning guidance for comment

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued the draft report, Consolidated Decommissioning Guidance, Characterization, Survey, and Determination of Radiological Criteria (NUREG-1757, Volume 2, Revision 2), with a request for comments by February 8.

NUREG-1757, which is intended for use by applicants, licensees, and the NRC staff, was last updated in 2006. This latest revision addresses lessons learned and experience gained from the review of license termination plans, decommissioning plans, and final status surveys for licensees undergoing license termination since then.

Notice of the draft NUREG was published in the December 8 Federal Register.

Orano, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power to cooperate on nuclear D&D

Orano's Alain Vandercruyssen signs a cooperation agreement with KHNP on December 4. Photo: ORANO

With the signing of a cooperation agreement by Orano and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power at KHNP’s headquarters in Gyeongju on December 4, France and South Korea are poised to enhance collaboration in the decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear facilities, particularly in South Korea and Europe.

Orano said that the collaboration will give it access to the expertise of KHNP engineers, as well as to KHNP’s network of providers of nuclear engineering services, particularly in the fields of robotics, process industrialization, and quality.

KHNP, in return, will benefit from Orano’s experience in preparing and carrying out nuclear dismantling, with the company providing technical assistance and supplying skills and training. South Korean engineers will be included in the Orano dismantling and services teams.

WIPP could run out of disposal space, GAO says

The aboveground portion of WIPP’s current ventilation system. Photo: GAO

A study of the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has found that the repository faces long-term issues with ensuring sufficient physical space and statutory capacity to dispose of the federal government’s inventory of transuranic (TRU) waste. WIPP is the United States’ only repository for the disposal of TRU waste generated by the DOE’s nuclear weapons research and production.

The Government Accountability Office study, Better Planning Needed to Avoid Potential Disruptions at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (CAO-21-48), was published on November 19.

NRC approves TMI-2 license transfer to EnergySolutions

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of the license for Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant from FirstEnergy Companies to TMI-2 Solutions, a subsidiary of Utah-based EnergySolutions. The approval, announced on December 2, is effective immediately, and the license will be amended to reflect the new ownership once the sale of TMI-2 is completed.

Finland’s Onkalo repository a “game changer,” says IAEA’s Grossi

Onkalo, Finland’s deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel, has been characterized as a game changer for the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy by Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Finland has had the determination to move forward with the project and to bring it to fruition,” Grossi said during a November 26 visit to Olkiluoto, Finland, where the repository is under construction. “Waste management has always been at the center of many debates about nuclear energy and the sustainability of nuclear activity around the world. Everybody knew of the idea of a geological repository for high-level radioactive nuclear waste, but Finland did it.”

Posiva Oy, the Finnish company tasked with researching and creating a method for the permanent disposal of spent fuel from Finland’s Olkiluoto and Loviisa nuclear power plants, obtained a license to construct the Onkalo repository in 2015, marking the first time that a construction license for a geological disposal facility was issued anywhere in the world. The site near the Olkiluoto plant was chosen following several years of screening a number of potential sites.

New Mexico denies authorization extension for WIPP utility shaft

Construction of a new utility shaft at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant transuranic waste repository may be put on hold after the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) denied a request by the Department of Energy and its contractor to extend state authorization of the project. The shaft is part of WIPP’s Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, a $300-million project intended to allow simultaneous mining and waste emplacement activities in the geologic repository by increasing ventilation to the underground.

The NMED in April 2020 approved a request by the DOE and WIPP operator Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) for temporary authorization to begin construction of the utility shaft while the state reviews a modification to WIPP’s permit allowing the addition to the repository. That authorization expired on October 24, and the DOE and NWP asked for an extension of the authorization for an additional 180 days while the permit modification process continues.

Indian Point licenses to transfer to Holtec for decommissioning

Indian Point’s licenses will transfer to Holtec for decommissioning after the plant shuts down in 2021. Photo: Entergy Nuclear

The transfer of the Indian Point nuclear power plant licenses from Entergy to Holtec International, as owner, and Holtec Decommissioning International (HDI), as decommissioning operator, has been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The license transfers follow the transfer of the licenses of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant from Exelon and the Pilgrim plant from Entergy to Holtec in mid-2019. As with the Oyster Creek and Pilgrim plants, Holtec and HDI intend to expedite the decommissioning and dismantling of Indian Point.

Indian Point’s three pressurized water reactors are located in Buchanan, N.Y., approximately 24 miles north of New York City. Units 1 and 2 have been permanently shut down, in 1974 and 2020, respectively, and Unit 3 is scheduled to be shut down in April 2021. The license transfer also includes the plant’s independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI).

Palo Verde settles with NRC over apparent spent fuel storage violations

The Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona.

A confirmatory order issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Arizona Public Service Company documents the commitments the company has made as part of a settlement agreement with the agency. The settlement agreement stems from two apparent violations of NRC regulations involving spent nuclear fuel at APS’s Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Tonopah, Ariz.

The apparent violations involved APS’s failure to (1) perform a written evaluation for a change to the NAC MAGNASTOR dry cask storage system for spent fuel and obtain a license amendment for a change in methodology for performing tip-over calculations and (2) adequately analyze the consequences of a hypothetical MAGNASTOR CC5 spent fuel cask tip-over accident on the plant’s independent spent fuel storage installation pad.

The confirmatory order was issued on November 17. The apparent violations are described in a July 6 NRC inspection report.

2021 WM Symposia conference to go virtual

Citing ongoing developments with COVID-19, Waste Management Symposia has announced that it has decided to make its 2021 Waste Management Conference a virtual event. WM Symposia has been holding its annual conference for the management of radioactive waste, nuclear decommissioning, and related topics since 1974. The conference is typically held in early March in Phoenix, Ariz.

Savannah River's Ford Building comes down

Demolition of the Ford Building at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been completed, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) announced on November 18. The large metal storage building formerly contained mechanical systems used during the Cold War to remotely raise and lower control rods within nuclear reactor vessels.

Workers have also sealed the Ford Building’s original concrete flooring with six inches of new concrete. Teardown of the facility brings the number of structures that have been deactivated and decommissioned at the site to 292.

DOE to treat groundwater at Santa Susana Field Laboratory

In the November 10 Federal Register, the Department of Energy published a record of decision to begin groundwater remediation at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Ventura County, Calif. The cleanup of groundwater will take place at seven locations within Area IV of the former industrial research and development complex.

Santa Susana’s Area IV contains the Energy Technology Engineering Center (ETEC), which was used for liquid metals research and where 10 nuclear research reactors were built and operated. Under an agreement with the state of California, the DOE is currently removing inactive buildings from the ETEC as part of the site cleanup.

NRC passes on Pilgrim Watch’s license petition

The Pilgrim nuclear power plant was shut down in May 2019. Photo: Entergy Energy

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied a request by the antinuclear group Pilgrim Watch for a hearing in the transfer of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant’s license from Entergy to a subsidiary of Holtec International for decommissioning. The NRC commissioners issued the order denying Pilgrim Watch’s petition to intervene and request a hearing on November 12.

Pilgrim Watch submitted its petition against the transfer of Pilgrim’s license from Entergy to Holtec Decommissioning International in February 2019. The NRC staff, however, approved the transfer in August 2019, while the petition was still under review. NRC regulations allow staff to approve a license transfer under the condition that the commissioners may later move to “rescind, modify, or condition the approved transfer based on the outcome of any post-effectiveness hearing on the license transfer application.”

A separate petition against the license transfer submitted by the state of Massachusetts was withdrawn in June, following a settlement agreement between the state and Holtec.

Pilgrim permanently ceased operations in May 2019. Holtec plans to decommission the plant (with the exception of the independent spent fuel storage installation) on an eight-year schedule to permit partial site release by the NRC.

Last of historic LLW removed from Lake Ontario shores

A truckload of LLW is moved away from the Lake Ontario shoreline to a long-term storage facility. Photo courtesy of CNL.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) announced on November 9 that it has completed the excavation and transfer of about 450,000 cubic meters of historic low-level radioactive waste (LLW) and contaminated soils away from the Lake Ontario shoreline in Southeast Clarington, Ontario. The waste resulted from radium and uranium refining operations of the former Canadian Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear and its private sector predecessors, which operated from the 1930s to 1988.

CNL said the placement of the last truckloads of waste in the aboveground mound at the new long-term waste management facility, located about 700 meters north of the shoreline site, marks a milestone for the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI), Canada’s cleanup and long-term management response to LLW in the municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington. CNL is implementing the PHAI on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

Hanford evaporator facility gets upgrades

A graphic representation showing how the 242-A Evaporator creates storage space in the double-shell tanks at the Hanford Site. Image: DOE

Improvements to Hanford’s 242-A Evaporator Facility continue to be made as the Department of Energy prepares to begin its direct-feed low-activity waste (DFLAW) approach to treating radioactive liquid waste at the site near Richland, Wash. The DOE announced on November 3 that its Office of River Protection and contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) have completed several major upgrades and repairs at the evaporator, and more are planned.

Used to reduce waste volume by removing liquid from Hanford’s underground storage tanks, the 242-A Evaporator is fundamental to the Hanford Site tank waste mission and will play an essential part in the DFLAW treatment approach, according to the DOE.