Two British Class 88 locomotives transport a nuclear waste flask wagon across Great Britain. (Photos: NTS)
Since its formation in 2005, the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has been tasked with ensuring that the U.K.’s nuclear legacy sites are decommissioned and cleaned up safely, securely, cost-effectively, and in ways that protect the people and the environment.
February 17, 2023, 3:03PMRadwaste SolutionsPeter Swift, Michael Apted, Lake Barrett, John Kessler, and Steven Nesbit
An electric continuous miner machine cuts out a waste-emplacement panel at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant salt repository in New Mexico. (Photo: DOE)
Used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes are by-products of nuclear energy production and other applications of nuclear technology, and the consensus approach to disposing of those wastes safely is to encapsulate them and emplace them in stable geologic formations (geologic repositories) where they will be isolated from people and the environment for very long periods of time. The federal government has established environmental standards for waste isolation that any proposed geologic repository must meet.
In July 2021, the American Nuclear Society established a special committee to consider possibilities for revised generic environmental standards for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the United States. The committee developed a number of recommendations, which are contained in a draft report that was to be issued in February for review and comment by stakeholders. The draft report can be found on the ANS website, at ans.org/policy/repositorystandard/.
The committee’s draft recommendations are based on two underlying assumptions. First, that the relevant legislative framework for regulation defined in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) remains unchanged. Specifically, it is assumed that the Environmental Protection Agency will be charged with promulgating environmental standards for disposal and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be charged with reviewing applications for disposal facilities using licensing requirements and criteria consistent with the EPA standards. Second, that existing generic disposal standards will be updated or replaced.
Two workers walk down an underground passageway at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant transuranic waste repository in New Mexico. (Photo: DOE)
While still lacking a deep geological repository for the permanent disposal of its commercial used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, the United States does have regulatory standards for geological nuclear waste disposal.
Having been written nearly 40 years ago, however, those standards are outmoded and lack transparency, according to a special committee of the American Nuclear Society, which has released draft recommendations on revising public health and safety standards for future geological repository projects in the United States.
Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. (Photo: DOE)
The Department of Energy is asking for feedback on a new report analyzing potential options for preparing high-level radioactive waste for vitrification at the department’s Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. Vitrification is the process of treating radioactive waste by immobilizing it in glass.
The report, Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant High-Level Waste Treatment: Analysis of Alternatives, was commissioned in response to a 2018 determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it was unlikely the DOE would meet its mandated deadlines for treating Hanford’s tank waste.
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Kite & Key Media, which produces short videos that provide context on an array of topical issues, has released an online video that sets the record straight on just what nuclear waste is and how its publicly perceived risks don’t match up with reality.
Graphical rendering of Fortis railcar design with spent nuclear fuel cask. (Image: DOE)
The Department of Energy has issued a request for proposals for the fabrication and testing of a prototype eight-axle railcar to carry the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The heavy-duty, flat-deck railcar design known as “Fortis” received approval from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) in January 2021 to proceed to building and testing.
Savannah River Remediation workers double-stack HLW canisters in an underground vault in Savannah River’s Glass Waste Storage Building 2 using a one-of-a-kind shielded canister transporter. (Photo: DOE)
The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has demonstrated the capability to expand the double-stacking of high-level waste canisters at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. That approach will save the site’s cleanup program millions of dollars, according to the DOE.
The underground Exploratory Studies Facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada built by the Department of Energy to determine whether the location was suitable as a deep geological nuclear waste repository. Courtesy of the Department of Energy.
It is no secret that the U.S. government’s program to manage and dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is in a deep ditch. Private companies continue to safely store used fuel at U.S. nuclear reactor sites, some of which ceased power operations decades ago. Other countries, such as Finland, Sweden, France, Canada, Switzerland, Russia, and China, are moving forward on permanent disposal, while for the past 11 years, the U.S. government has done nothing constructive to discharge its HLW disposal responsibilities. Rather than taking action, successive Congresses and administrations have sat on their collective hands.
The NWTRB’s six overarching recommendations for the DOE’s nuclear waste management program.