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.

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Vision 2020

On March 9, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) released its first strategic plan in several years. Titled “A Time of Transition and Transformation: EM Vision 2020-2030,” and called the Strategic Vision1, the document outlines the past accomplishments in cleaning up legacy nuclear waste and provides a broad overview of the initiatives that EM plans to put into motion over the next decade, “laying the groundwork for a long-term plan to realize meaningful impact on the environmental cleanup mission.”2

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NRC denies challenge to Three Mile Island’s emergency plan

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a petition by Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA) challenging Exelon’s request to revise its site emergency plan for the closed Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Exelon submitted a request to the NRC to amend its TMI-1 license to reflect the reduced risks of the defueled reactor, which was permanently shut down in September 2019.

In an order issued on October 8, the NRC commissioners upheld a decision by an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board denying TMIA’s petition to intervene and request a hearing in the license amendment request. That decision, issued on January 23, 2020, found that the antinuclear group had not established standing in the case and that its contentions were inadmissible.

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.

What does the Supreme Court have to do with nuclear waste?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American Nuclear Society.

As if COVID-19 and a rancorous presidential election were not enough, over the next few weeks we will also be dealing with the confirmation of a justice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. What does that have to do with the American Nuclear Society and nuclear technology? Well, nothing directly, but there is an interesting connection between the Supreme Court and a notable case on nuclear waste decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August 2013.

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.

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Tapping Nonnuclear Knowledge

The Deepsea Delta oil-drilling platform in the North Sea. The dismantling of such large oil and gas structures may offer lessons that can be applied to nuclear decommissioning.

Within the energy sector, the management of projects and megaprojects has historically focused on the planning and delivery of the construction of infrastructure [1–3]. Therefore, policies are more oriented to support the construction of infrastructure rather than its decommissioning. Globally, however, a number of facilities have reached or will soon reach their end of life and need to be decommissioned.

These facilities span the energy sector, including nuclear power plants, oil and gas rigs, mines, dams, etc., whose decommissioning present unprecedented technical and socioeconomic challenges [4–7]. Moreover, the cost of decommissioning and waste management of this array of infrastructure is estimated to reach hundreds of billions of dollars and, for most of these projects, keeps increasing, with limited cross-sectorial knowledge-transfer to mitigate the spiraling increase of these figures.

Cross-sectorial knowledge-transfer is one way to tackle this matter and improve the planning and delivery of decommissioning projects. The aim of our research has been to build a roadmap that is designed to promote the sharing of good practices between projects both within the same industry and across different industrial sectors, focusing specifically on major decommissioning and waste-management challenges.

To reach this aim, our research leverages on the experience of senior industry practitioners and their involvement in the decommissioning and waste management of infrastructure in different sectors. More specifically, this research addresses the following questions:

To what extent can lessons learned be transferred across industrial sectors?

What are the challenges that hinder successful cross-sectorial knowledge-transfer?

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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.”

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The Road to Utah

Six large trucks were used to push and pull the SONGS-1 reactor pressure vessel 400 miles through Nevada and into Utah with a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour over a 10-day period. Photo: EnergySolutions

July 14 marked a milestone in the decommissioning of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), as the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel (RPV) completed a seven-week journey from Southern California to EnergySolutions’ Clive disposal facility in Utah. The approximately 670-ton RPV package, containing the pressure vessel from the previously decommissioned SONGS-1, pieces of radioactive metal, and grout for radiation shielding, left San Onofre on May 24, traveling by rail to a location outside Las Vegas, where it was transferred to a platform trailer to be transported the remaining 400 miles to Clive, about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City.

“This project was a very complex undertaking that required approvals and/or coordination with over two dozen federal, state, and local agencies and government entities,” said Todd Eiler, director of the EnergySolutions Projects Group, which handled the transport. “The coordinated effort with the rail lines and departments of transportation in California, Nevada, and Utah resulted in another safe and successful large component shipment managed by the EnergySolutions Projects Group.”

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A last look at Fort Belvoir’s SM-1 reactor

A series of photos published by the Washingtonian on September 22 capture rarely seen images of Fort Belvoir’s SM-1 reactor, the U.S. Army’s first nuclear reactor and the first facility in the United States to provide nuclear-generated power to the commercial grid for a sustained period. These images may be some of the last photos of SM-1, as crews are set to begin decommissioning and dismantling the nuclear facility early next year.

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 begins transition to new Hanford cleanup contract

Hanford’s Central Plateau

Central Plateau Cleanup Company, the Amentum-led joint venture with Fluor and Atkins, has been cleared by the Department of Energy to begin a 60-day transition, starting on October 5, to the Central Plateau Cleanup Contract at the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. As announced by Amentum on September 16, the company has received “notice to proceed” on the $10 billion, 10-year cleanup contract from the Department of Energy.

The DOE awarded the indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to Central Plateau Cleanup in December 2019, replacing the plateau remediation contract held by CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company, a subsidiary of Jacobs.

NNSA assists in removal of HEU from Kazakhstan

The last remaining batch of unirradiated high-enriched uranium in Kazakhstan has been eliminated, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has announced.

The action fulfills a pledge made by the United States and Kazakh governments one year ago at the 2019 International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference, according to a September 22 NNSA news release.