NEA argues for circular approach to funding back end of nuclear fuel cycle

June 22, 2021, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions

A report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency proposes a new approach to assessing the financial adequacy for undertaking nuclear decontamination and decommissioning projects and high-level radioactive waste management.

With the world’s aging nuclear power reactors approaching the end of their planned operational lifetimes, the adequacy of funding for decommissioning and waste management increasingly commands the attention of decision makers, the NEA said.

One small step for nuclear waste?

May 12, 2021, 5:55AMANS Nuclear CafeSteven Nesbit
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.

NWTRB offers six recommendations to spur U.S. nuclear waste management program

May 4, 2021, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
The NWTRB’s six overarching recommendations for the DOE’s nuclear waste management program.

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB), created by Congress to evaluate the technical and scientific validity of the Department of Energy’s work related to the management and disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, has released a report titled Six Overarching Recommendations for How to Move the Nation’s Nuclear Waste Management Program Forward.

Rep. Newhouse urges DOE to uphold HLW interpretation

April 7, 2021, 7:02AMRadwaste Solutions

Newhouse

In a letter written to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) has urged the Department of Energy to maintain its 2019 interpretation of high-level radioactive waste. Newhouse was responding to a letter sent to Granholm by several special interest groups and state leaders asking that the DOE immediately rescind the HLW interpretation.

That special interests/state leaders letter, sent on February 26—one day after Granholm was confirmed as energy secretary—was signed by Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, Washington State director of ecology Laura Watson, and Phil Rigdon of the Yakama Nation, along with representatives from Natural Resources Defense Council, Hanford Challenge, and Columbia Riverkeeper. The letter said, in part, “We look forward to working with you on the Department’s cleanup of legacy nuclear waste at sites such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation located near Tri-Cities, Washington. Washington houses 60 percent of the nation’s High-Level Radioactive Waste with 56 million gallons stored in 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford."

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

February 9, 2021, 3:04PMRadwaste Solutions

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.

Columbia University report sets out nuclear waste policy options

February 1, 2021, 9:29AMRadwaste Solutions

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.

DOE looks to dispose of Savannah River process equipment as LLW

January 21, 2021, 6:57AMRadwaste Solutions

The Department of Energy is considering disposing of contaminated process equipment from its Savannah River Site (SRS) at a commercial low-level waste facility using its recent interpretation of the statutory term “high-level radioactive waste,” which classifies waste generated from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel based on its radiological content rather than its origin.

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

January 8, 2021, 7:02AMRadwaste Solutions

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

August 18, 2020, 3:03PMRadwaste Solutions

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

August 11, 2020, 10:20AMRadwaste Solutions

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.

Waste Management Conference: Focused on the future

May 14, 2020, 1:19PMRadwaste Solutions

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

May 4, 2020, 10:38AMRadwaste Solutions

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.