Yucca Mountain is not dead, Shimkus says

Shimkus

For more than two decades, one of the country’s biggest champions of the Yucca Mountain Project has been Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.), who is retiring from Congress this year. Shimkus spoke with E&E News about how he is not ready to give up on the Nevada repository in an article posted to the energy and environment news organization’s website on October 20.

“It’s never dead,” Shimkus said. “It’s the law of the land."

Milestone reached in Moab Site mill tailings removal project

Officials with the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project display commemorative flags recognizing the milestone of disposing of 11 million tons of mill tailings. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) announced on October 20 that it has achieved a 2020 priority with the removal of another million tons of contaminated soil and debris from the Moab Site in southeastern Utah.

With this latest milestone, EM’s Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project has disposed of a total of 11 million tons of mill tailings from the site along the Colorado River, putting the project two-thirds of the way toward completing the removal and disposal of 16 million tons of mill tailings.

Site employees also recently surpassed a safety milestone, exceeding 1,500 workdays without a lost-time injury or illness, the DOE said.

U-233 processing restarts at Oak Ridge following upgrades

A fissile material handler uses a shielded glovebox to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. Photo: DOE

The processing and downblending of uranium-233 for disposal has resumed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, following a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Energy announced on October 20. Removal and disposition of the U-233 is one of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s highest priorities at the site, as stated in its strategic vision released earlier this year.

The project is removing a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in Building 3019, the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, according to the DOE. Employees, known as fissile material handlers, use shielded gloveboxes to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. The material dates back decades and was originally pursued as a fuel for reactors; however, it did not prove to be a viable option.

First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette speaks during an October 13 celebration marking the completion of the cleanup of Oak Ridge’s East Tennessee Technology Park.

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 (ETTP), where the uranium enrichment complex once stood.

“We are not only celebrating reaching this achievement, but also how this achievement will impact the future of this region moving forward,” Brouillette said. “We turned what was once an expensive government liability that presented risks to the community into an asset that the community can use to usher in new growth for East Tennessee.”

NRC approves Yucca Mountain roadmap

Yucca Mountain in Neveda.

The commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-2 in favor of a recommendation by agency staff to produce a knowledge management “roadmap” for the suspended Yucca Mountain license review. According to NRC staff, the roadmap, which would focus on the regulatory and technical bases of the NRC’s review of the proposed high-level waste repository, would assist staff in resuming licensing work should Congress appropriate funds to do so. The NRC staff said that the document would be completed within a year.

The staff proposes to use $164,000 from the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF) to develop the document. The staff’s proposal, along with the voting records of the NRC commissioners, was posted to the NRC’s ADAMS website on October 9.

Report finds Hanford’s waste tanks at risk

The Office of Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Energy is raising concerns about the ability of the department to safely store radioactive waste in underground tanks at the Hanford Site until its cleanup mission there is complete. Specifically, the IG said that the tanks, which include 149 single-shell tanks (SST) and 28 double-shell tanks (DST), have deteriorated over time and there may not be enough space in the DSTs to accommodate waste from failed tanks.

The audit report, Tank Waste Management at the Hanford Site (DOE-OIG-20-57), was posted to the IG'S webpage on October 5.

Proposals being accepted for $21 billion Savannah River contract

Savannah River’s integrated mission contract will combine liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has begun accepting bids on a new 10-year, $21-billion contract for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. EM issued a final request for proposal for the SRS integrated mission completion contract (IMCC) on October 1, posting it to EM’s dedicated SRS IMCC website.

The IMCC would coalesce the work of two current contractors, including Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor led by Amentum with partners Bechtel National, Jacobs, and BWX Technologies, into a single contract, combining liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The deadline for proposals for the site contract is December 1.

Crystal River-3 operating license transferred to decommissioning company

The Crystal River-3 nuclear power plant

Duke Energy and Accelerated Decommissioning Partners (ADP) on October 1 announced the completion of a transaction to begin decontaminating and dismantling the Crystal River-3 nuclear power plant this year instead of in 2067. ADP, a joint venture of NorthStar Group Services and Orano USA formed in 2017, was chosen by Duke Energy in 2019 to complete the decommissioning of the pressurized water reactor by 2027—nearly 50 years sooner than originally planned.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of Crystal River’s operating license from Duke Energy to ADP on April 1, and the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approved the transaction on August 18. Duke Energy permanently ceased operations at Crystal River-3, in Citrus County, Fla., in 2013, initially placing the reactor in safe storage (SAFSTOR), whereby the decommissioning work would begin in 2067 and end by 2074.

Texas governor asks Trump to cancel interim storage facilities

Abbott

In a letter sent to President Trump on September 30, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed his opposition to two proposed consolidated interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel that are currently under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Abbott is opposing Interim Storage Partner’s (ISP) interim storage facility in West Texas and Holtec International’s planned facility in New Mexico, near the Texas border, claiming that the facilities will put U.S. energy security at risk by being sited within the oil-producing region of the Permian Basin.

Abbott also said that he was opposed to increasing the amount of radioactive waste permitted to be disposed of in Texas without state approval. In April 2019, Abbott wrote to the Department of Energy and the NRC expressing his objections to federal actions that could allow Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to accept greater-than-Class C waste at its disposal site in Andrews County, Texas. ISP is a joint venture of WCS and Orano USA.

Celebration held for startup of Savannah River’s Salt Waste Processing Facility

Participants in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site included, from left, Rep. Joe Wilson; Parsons chairman and chief executive officer Chuck Harrington; under secretary for science Paul Dabbar; DOE-Savannah River manager Mike Budney; DOE senior advisor William "Ike" White; Parsons president and chief operations officer Carey Smith; SWPF federal project director Pam Marks; and Parsons senior vice president and SWPF project manager Frank Sheppard. Photo: DOE

The launch of the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina was marked on September 24 with a ceremony attended by the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for science, Paul Dabbar, and senior advisor to the undersecretary for environmental management, William “Ike” White. Also attending the event were Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) and representatives from the offices of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.).

“SWPF is the final piece to what is an impressive and highly successful liquid waste program here,” said Dabbar, who served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “Bringing it on line is a tremendous victory, not only for the site, but for the entire cleanup mission.”

House bill would create spent fuel R&D program at the DOE

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 1, 2 and 3. Photo: SoCal Edison

A bill introduced on September 21 by Rep. Mark Levine (D., Calif.) would direct the Department of Energy to conduct an advanced fuel cycle research, development, demonstration, and commercial application program. According to Levine, whose district includes the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), the Spent Nuclear Fuel Solutions Research and Development Act (H.R. 8258) is intended to foster innovation in the storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

The program, which would be authorized at over $500 million over five years, would have the DOE investigate a variety of options for managing the storage, use, and disposal of spent fuel, including dry cask storage, consolidated interim storage, deep geological storage and disposal, and vitrification.

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.

OPG, BWXT to collaborate on heavy water recycling project

Pickering nuclear power plant. Photo: OPG

BWXT Canada Ltd. (BWXT) will work with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) subsidiary Laurentis Energy Partners in developing technology that will assist in the recycling of heavy water from OPG’s CANDU reactors, OPG’s Centre for Canadian Nuclear Sustainability (CCNS) announced on September 17.

The collaborative project will recycle heavy water used to cool Canadian pressurized heavy-water reactors such as those in OPG’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear power plants. Once recycled, the heavy water will be used in a growing number of non-nuclear applications that include pharmaceuticals, medical diagnostics, and next-generation electronics including fiber optics.

NRC to hold webinars in October on used fuel storage facility in Texas

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled four webinars in October to present its draft environmental findings and receive comments on Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) proposed consolidated interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas.

Information for the webinars will be posted on the NRC’s Public Meetings webpage. The webinars will be held at different times of the day to maximize opportunities for the public to participate and are tentatively scheduled for the following (all times are Eastern):

  • October 1, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  • October 6, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
  • October 8, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  • October 15, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Cost of Magnox D&D has increased by up to 45 percent

The U.K.’s Bradwell Magnox site after being placed in “care and maintenance."

The National Audit Office (NAO) of the United Kingdom reported on September 11 that the total cost of the work needed to put the country’s Magnox nuclear sites into “care and maintenance” has increased by up to an estimated £2.7 billion (about $3.5 billion) since the office’s last estimate in 2017. The NAO, which scrutinizes U.K. public spending, released its findings in a report examining the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) management of a renegotiated decontamination and decommissioning contract with Cavendish Fluor Partnership.

UK reactor desk to get a second act in the film industry

The inspection desk in use at Sizewell A.

A piece of British nuclear history may be coming to a movie theatre (or streaming service) near you. The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) sold, at auction, a reactor in-core inspection desk to an Oxford-based film studio known to have been involved with productions such as World War Z, Iron Man 2, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The inspection desk, which was used to remotely check conditions deep inside the gas-cooled reactors at Sizewell A nuclear power plant in Suffolk, England, received a high bid of £10,200 (about $13,000), according to a September 7 press notice from Magnox Ltd., the NDA company responsible for the cleanup of the U.K.’s former Magnox reactors. The desk was last used in 2005, just before the site stopped generating electricity.

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.

Licensing board denies reopening Holtec CISF license proceeding

A licensing board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an order last week denying calls to reopen proceedings against Holtec International’s application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage site for used nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico.

Fasken Land and Minerals, an oil and gas company based in Midland, Texas, along with Permian Basin Land and Royalty Owners, an association of oil and gas producers and royalty owners (collectively called Fasken), filed motions with the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) seeking to reopen the record and submit an amended late contention against Holtec’s license application.

DOE ends dispute with South Carolina on Pu removal

The DOE is working to remove plutonium stored at its Savannah River Site.

The Department of Energy has reached a settlement with the state of South Carolina to remove 9.5 metric tons (t) of plutonium from the state, the agency announced on August 31. Under the settlement, which resolves litigation over the storage of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., the state will receive an upfront lump sum of $600 million in economic and impact assistance payments. In return, the DOE will be allowed more time (through 2037) to remove the plutonium from the state without the threat of lawsuits.

The settlement stems from the DOE's termination of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in 2018. The MOX facility was intended to meet a nonproliferation agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 t of weapons-grade plutonium by converting it to nuclear fuel for commercial power reactors. Reported to be 70-percent completed when construction was halted, the MOX facility was approximately $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule, according to the DOE.