DOE looks to dispose of Savannah River process equipment as LLW

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.

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.

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.”

DOE extends comment period on Hanford LAW document

The Department of Energy has extended until November 27 the public comment period on the Draft Waste Incidental to Reprocessing Evaluation for Vitrified Low-Activity Waste Disposed Onsite at the Hanford Site, Washington, which supports the DOE’s decision to dispose of vitrified low-level radioactive waste at an on-site disposal facility at the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. Notice of the comment extension was published in the September 22 Federal Register.

The DOE initially made the draft waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR) evaluation available in the May 26 Federal Register, opening a 120-day comment period. The DOE said it is extending the comment period an additional 60 days in response to requests.

DOE issues RFP for nationwide mixed LLW treatment services

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management issued a final request for proposal (RFP) last week for its Nationwide Low-Level Mixed Low-Level Waste Treatment Services procurement. According to the DOE, the RFP is being issued on a full-and-open, unrestricted basis. The DOE intends to issue one or more basic ordering agreements as a result of this RFP.

The final RFP was can be found on the website of the DOE’s Environmental Management Consolidated Business Center. It also will be posted to the Fedconnect website. The deadline for RFPs is September 30.

NRC extends comment period for LLW rule

Recognizing the impacts of the current COVID–19 pandemic, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided to extend the public comment period on a proposed interpretation of its low-level radioactive waste disposal regulations. The new deadline for comments is July 20. The proposed LLW interpretive rule, announced on March 6, would permit licensees to dispose of waste by transfer to persons who hold specific exemptions for the purpose of disposal (NN, Apr. 2020, p. 47).