Texas congressman weighs in on Yucca Mountain

Burgess

The U.S. Congress has failed to uphold its promise to fully fund Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, as a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R., Texas) writes in an op-ed article published on December 8 in the Dallas Morning News.

More than three decades after passing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Congress has yet to fully fund the Yucca Mountain Project. Burgess points out that while some countries have found success with reprocessing spent fuels, the fission process will always produce some amount of material that must be safely disposed, making it necessary to find a permanent solution.

Finland’s Onkalo repository a “game changer,” says IAEA’s Grossi

Onkalo, Finland’s deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel, has been characterized as a game changer for the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy by Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Finland has had the determination to move forward with the project and to bring it to fruition,” Grossi said during a November 26 visit to Olkiluoto, Finland, where the repository is under construction. “Waste management has always been at the center of many debates about nuclear energy and the sustainability of nuclear activity around the world. Everybody knew of the idea of a geological repository for high-level radioactive nuclear waste, but Finland did it.”

Posiva Oy, the Finnish company tasked with researching and creating a method for the permanent disposal of spent fuel from Finland’s Olkiluoto and Loviisa nuclear power plants, obtained a license to construct the Onkalo repository in 2015, marking the first time that a construction license for a geological disposal facility was issued anywhere in the world. The site near the Olkiluoto plant was chosen following several years of screening a number of potential sites.

New Mexico denies authorization extension for WIPP utility shaft

Construction of a new utility shaft at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant transuranic waste repository may be put on hold after the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) denied a request by the Department of Energy and its contractor to extend state authorization of the project. The shaft is part of WIPP’s Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, a $300-million project intended to allow simultaneous mining and waste emplacement activities in the geologic repository by increasing ventilation to the underground.

The NMED in April 2020 approved a request by the DOE and WIPP operator Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) for temporary authorization to begin construction of the utility shaft while the state reviews a modification to WIPP’s permit allowing the addition to the repository. That authorization expired on October 24, and the DOE and NWP asked for an extension of the authorization for an additional 180 days while the permit modification process continues.

NUREG published on high-burnup spent fuel storage and transportation

A final report on the dry storage and transportation of high-burnup spent nuclear fuel (NUREG-2224) has been issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NUREG-2224 provides a technical basis in support of the NRC’s guidance on adequate fuel conditions as it pertains to hydride reorientation in the cladding of high-burnup spent fuel (over 45 gigawatt-day per metric ton uranium).

NUREG-2224, “Dry Storage and Transportation of High Burnup Spent Nuclear Fuel,” was made publicly available on November 23 on the NRC’s ADAMS website with Accession No. ML20191A321.

2021 WM Symposia conference to go virtual

Citing ongoing developments with COVID-19, Waste Management Symposia has announced that it has decided to make its 2021 Waste Management Conference a virtual event. WM Symposia has been holding its annual conference for the management of radioactive waste, nuclear decommissioning, and related topics since 1974. The conference is typically held in early March in Phoenix, Ariz.

B. John Garrick, pioneer in development and application of risk sciences, passes away

Garrick

B. John Garrick, ANS Fellow and member since 1956 and an international authority on quantitative risk assessment, died on November 1 due to complications from a fall. He was 90.

Garrick, a distinguished adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles, established his trailblazing theory on risk sciences in his Ph.D. thesis, which contributed to building the foundation of probabilistic risk assessment. Also referred to as quantitative risk assessment, it offers a guide to corrective actions to eliminate threats and to best practices for managing low-probability, high-consequence events resulting from natural and man-made disasters.

Hanford evaporator facility gets upgrades

A graphic representation showing how the 242-A Evaporator creates storage space in the double-shell tanks at the Hanford Site. Image: DOE

Improvements to Hanford’s 242-A Evaporator Facility continue to be made as the Department of Energy prepares to begin its direct-feed low-activity waste (DFLAW) approach to treating radioactive liquid waste at the site near Richland, Wash. The DOE announced on November 3 that its Office of River Protection and contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) have completed several major upgrades and repairs at the evaporator, and more are planned.

Used to reduce waste volume by removing liquid from Hanford’s underground storage tanks, the 242-A Evaporator is fundamental to the Hanford Site tank waste mission and will play an essential part in the DFLAW treatment approach, according to the DOE.

Uranium mining settlement could fund new cleanup industry

The Santa Fe New Mexican, in its October 24 edition, reported on a study by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research that found that the state could use money from a nearly $1- billion federal mining settlement to create a new industry around the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in the Southwest.

WM Symposia announces scholarship funding for HBCUs

Waste Management Symposia, which hosts the Waste Management Conference every year in Phoenix, Ariz., announced on October 23 that it is putting an increased emphasis on funding scholarships at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and at institutions near Department of Energy sites. The organization said that the funding is part of its continuing effort to help the DOE and the nuclear industry develop the workforce of the future.

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.