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.

Salt Waste Processing Facility at SRS approved for start

The Department of Energy approved the start of operations at the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS), authorizing hot (radioactive) operations to begin at the facility, the agency announced on August 17.

The approval comes five months ahead of the current baseline completion date of January 31, 2021. Parsons Corporation, which designed and built the first-of-a-kind facility, will operate it for one year.

“This is a considerable achievement for EM's (Environmental Management) cleanup program and will drive significant progress in treating the tank waste at SRS in the next decade,” said William “Ike” White, senior advisor for the EM to the Under Secretary for Science.

DOE to ship Savannah River waste to Texas under new HLW interpretation

The Department of Energy’s demonstration case of how it applies its interpretation of high-level radioactive waste is set to go forward, as the department issued an environmental assessment (EA) report, Final Environmental Assessment for the Commercial Disposal of Defense Waste Processing Facility Recycle Wastewater from the Savannah River Site (final EA), and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the disposal of the waste at an off-site facility.

Based on the final EA, the DOE intends to ship up to 8 gallons of recycle wastewater from the Savannah River Site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) to the Waste Control Specialists disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas, starting within the next 12 months. Under the final EA, up to 10,000 gallons DWPF recycle wastewater may be disposed of at a licensed facility outside of South Carolina.

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Waste Management Conference: Focused on the future

2020 Waste Management Conference plenary speakers included (from left) Michael Lempke, of Huntington Ingalls Industries, William Magwood, of the NEA, and the DOE’s William “Ike” White. Photo: WM Symposia/Flash Gordon.

The 2020 Waste Management Conference, held March 8–12 in Phoenix, Ariz., kicked off just days before the World Health Organization declared the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic. When the conference began, it was still unclear how extensive the coronavirus outbreak would be, and meeting organizers later learned that two attendees were tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the days following the meeting. Fortunately, neither of the attendees tested positive.

Researchers investigate effects of heat on water migration at WIPP

Deep in the underground of a New Mexico desert, the Department of Energy is studying the effects of high-level, heat-generating radioactive waste on water migration in the salt formations. At the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., a collaboration between Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories is performing a series of borehole-scale process tests, called the Brine Availability Test in Salt (BATS) project.