Waste Management

Idaho’s IWTU resumes heat-up following repairs

February 2, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste SolutionsJohn Fabian

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) said that heat-up of Idaho’s Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) resumed in January. Crews began heating the IWTU in December in preparation of radiological operations, but the facility was shut down 10 days later after operators noticed a small leak of nonradioactive material inside one of the unit’s processing cells.

Located at the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site, the IWTU is intended to treat Idaho’s 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing liquid waste, converting it to a solid using a steam-reforming process.

After repairs were made to the IWTU equipment responsible for the leak, crews removed a partial obstruction that was in a line into the carbon reduction reformer, a key treatment vessel in the steam-reforming process, EM said.

Cs-137 sealed source found in Western Australia

January 31, 2023, 3:00PMUpdated February 1, 2023, 11:58AMRadwaste Solutions

A rendering of the sealed source capsule’s appearance. (Image: DFES)

Australian emergency services has located the lost sealed source, the BBC reported early February 1.

The cesium-137 capsule, part of a density gauge used at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia, was found after a survey vehicle travelling at 70 km/h (43 mph) detected radiation, according to the report. According to Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the capsule was located on the roadside of the Great Northern Highway, south of Newman. A serial number verified it was the lost source.

Last week, as reported yesterday by Nuclear Newswire, Australian authorities began searching 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) of Australia’s Great Northern Highway, between Perth and the remote town of Newman, for a lost sealed-source capsule containing cesium-137. The source was part of a density gauge used by mining company Rio Tinto at its mining operations in Western Australia.

Court dismisses challenges to Texas SNF storage facility

January 31, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
A rendering of ISP’s proposed interim storage facility in West Texas. (Image: ISP)

A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by environmental groups challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing of a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the NRC reasonably applied its hearing regulations when approving Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) license for the facility.

25th anniversary of failure (and a chance at opportunity)

January 30, 2023, 3:00PMANS Nuclear CafeLake Barrett

Silver anniversaries are usually a cause for great celebration, but this one is a cause for regret and a renewed plea for action. January 31, 2023, marks the 25th anniversary of the Department of Energy’s failure under law and contract to start the removal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the country’s 74 commercial nuclear power plant sites in 35 states for disposal per the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. I personally know the moral and legal responsibility associated with this failure, because in 1998, as the then responsible DOE official, I had to personally announce it. But much has changed since then. There are many new avenues to address these past problems like federal, state, and community partnerships that can be beneficial for all, if there is DOE leadership and congressional action for both disposal and storage.

Deep Isolation to launch demonstration center for borehole disposal

January 25, 2023, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions

Nuclear waste management start-up Deep Isolation has announced the formation of a new Deep Borehole Demonstration Center. The new nonprofit organization will seek to advance the maturity of the safety case for deep borehole disposal and the technical readiness levels of the borehole disposal concept, including characterization, construction, canister handling, emplacement, and retrieval.

DOE seeks input on analysis of alternatives for treating Hanford’s HLW

January 24, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy is asking for feedback on a new report analyzing potential options for preparing high-level radioactive waste for vitrification at the department’s Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. Vitrification is the process of treating radioactive waste by immobilizing it in glass.

The report, Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant High-Level Waste Treatment: Analysis of Alternatives, was commissioned in response to a 2018 determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it was unlikely the DOE would meet its mandated deadlines for treating Hanford’s tank waste.

DOE increases consent-based siting FOA to $26 million

January 23, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions

The Department of Energy has increased the funding level for its community engagement on consent-based siting funding opportunity announcement (FOA) from $16 million to $26 million. The DOE first announced it was making funding available to communities interested in learning more about consent-based siting, management of spent nuclear fuel, and interim storage facility siting considerations last September. The FOA follows the DOE’s recent update to its consent-based process for siting an interim storage facility for SNF.

Cell leak delays startup of Idaho’s IWTU

January 19, 2023, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions

Ten days after beginning a heat-up process to prepare for radiological operations at Idaho’s Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU), operators noticed a small leak of nonradioactive, nonhazardous solids in a cell, resulting in the facility’s shutdown in late December, the Department of Energy announced on January 10.

First shipment of surplus plutonium TRU waste sent to WIPP

January 16, 2023, 9:32AMRadwaste Solutions
The first shipment of downblended surplus plutonium from SRS’s K Area leaves SRS. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management have completed the first shipment of downblended surplus plutonium transuranic (TRU) material from the K Area at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Idaho’s IWTU prepares for radiological operations

January 6, 2023, 3:00PMRadwaste Solutions
The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the Idaho National Laboratory Site. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) said that the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU), the radioactive liquid waste treatment facility at the Idaho National Laboratory Site, began its final heat-up in December prior to initiating radiological operations, planned for early this year.

IWTU crews were to follow a prescribed incremental process as the facility transitions from simulant to sodium-bearing waste (SBW), according to EM.

Savannah River closes liquid waste structures in place

December 14, 2022, 12:03PMNuclear News

Two diversion boxes were covered with concrete to permanently close them from future use. Top, one of the boxes is shown prior to it being entombed in concrete. Bottom, the diversion box after workers placed concrete over and around the structure. (Photo: DOE)

Two previously radioactive structures have been successfully entombed at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The DOE’s Office of Environmental Management and the Savannah River Mission Completion (SRMC), the DOE’s liquid waste contractor at SRS, placed concrete over and around two concrete structures—called diversion boxes—that contain a series of connection points that allowed high-level radioactive waste to be transferred from one tank or facility to another.

The two boxes have been out of service for more than 30 years. As part of the closure process, both structures were previously filled with grout, rendering them inoperable.

The boxes were the first ancillary structures closed in this way under SRMC’s liquid waste contract. They are located in the F Tank Farm, a grouping of large underground waste-storage tanks. The liquid waste program at SRS has closed eight of the site’s 51 massive waste tanks by filling them with cementitious grout.

New Mexico tightens restrictions on WIPP permit renewal

December 14, 2022, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions
A radiological control technician checks radiation readings on waste containers at WIPP. (Photo: WIPP)

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is adding several conditions to the operating permit for the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M. The permit changes, which would prioritize the disposal of transuranic (TRU) waste generated in the state and limit the repository’s capacity, are contained in a fact sheet the NMED.

Hanford facilities upgrading to support tank waste treatment

December 13, 2022, 9:31AMRadwaste Solutions
A tanker holding 6200 gallons of leachate unloads at a backup load-in station at the Hanford Site’s ETF. (Photo: DOE)

Construction of a backup load-in station has been completed at the Hanford Site’s Effluent Treatment Facility (ETF) in Washington state.

“We broke ground on the backup facility about a year ago,” said Rob Wood, project manager for Washington River Protection Solutions, the Department of Energy’s tank operations contractor at the site. “I am proud of the team for completing this portion of the load-in expansion project and doing it safely. In phase two, expansion of the main load-in station will prepare us for 24/7 operations on the Hanford Site.”

Watch a time-lapse video of the backup load-in station construction here.

What about the waste?

December 5, 2022, 7:01AMNuclear NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

It’s always the first question asked. So, what is your approach? You have options.

You could go the “Yucca Mountain is the law of the land” route. But you’ll soon run into an immutable political truth. Nevada’s early presidential caucuses make it highly unlikely that any candidate would ever take a favorable position on Yucca unless it enjoyed commensurate support in the state. Not convinced? Nevada Gov. Stephen Sisolak signed a bill in August that replaces their closed caucus system with a primary during the first week in February, thereby putting the state in competition with Iowa and New Hampshire to be the “first primary” of the 2024 election. Face it: While you weren’t looking, Nevada secured its consent rights over Yucca Mountain; it’s just written in a different part of the law.

You could also double down on reprocessing/recycling and argue that we need some sort of Manhattan Project. But that requires convincing Congress that it’s a good idea for the government to build large, first-of-a-kind, multibillion-dollar fuel cycle facilities, the economics of which will be based on the estimated price of uranium (or thorium?) some number of decades from now. Good luck with that. As much as a grand solution to the fuel cycle may appeal to our engineering instincts, the funding simply isn’t there—there are no checks left in Washington’s checkbook.

Fusion energy radwaste management considerations

December 2, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear NewsLaila El-Guebaly

The question of what to do with the radioactive waste has been raised frequently for both fission and fusion. In the 1970s, fusion adopted the land-based disposal option, primarily based on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to regulate all radioactive wastes as only a disposal issue, following the fission guidelines. In the early 2000s, members of the Advanced Research Innovation and Evaluation Study (ARIES) national team became increasingly aware of the high amount of mildly radioactive materials that 1-GWe fusion power plants will generate, compared with the current line of fission reactors. The main concern is that such a sizable inventory of mostly tritiated radioactive materials would tend to rapidly fill U.S. repositories—a serious issue that was overlooked in early fusion studies1 that could influence the public acceptability of fusion energy and will certainly become more significant in the immediate future if left unaddressed, as fusion moves toward commercialization.

WIPP begins placing TRU waste in Panel 8

December 2, 2022, 12:00PMRadwaste Solutions
Workers walk down a passageway in Panel 8 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in November. (Photo: DOE)

Employees have begun emplacing defense-related transuranic (TRU) waste in Panel 8 of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) announced in November. TRU waste is permanently disposed of at WIPP in rooms mined in a Permian salt bed 2,150 feet below the surface.

Route readiness elements in a large-scale spent nuclear fuel transportation system

November 23, 2022, 3:03PMNuclear NewsKevin J. Connolly, Lauren S. Rodman, and Matthew R. Feldman

The scale and duration of a national campaign to transport spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from commercial nuclear power plants around the United States would be unprecedented. A meticulous level of planning that considers many elements is needed to inspire public confidence and support.

Nuclear waste disposal—What choice do we really have?

November 22, 2022, 6:50AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Taking waste into outer space would require quite large vehicles, like the Saturn 5 rocket shown here carrying the Apollo 14 crew to the moon. A huge fireball forms underneath the rocket . . . hmm, would that be wise? (Source: NASA)

Nuclear waste disposal presents a frustrating problem far beyond its actual danger. No one has ever been harmed by commercial nuclear waste, and no one is likely to ever be harmed.

But we do have to find a final resting place for nuclear waste as it decays away back to the levels of the ore from which it came.

There are several types of nuclear waste: low-­level waste (LLW), intermediate-­level waste (ILW), transuranic waste (TRU; referring only to bomb waste without a lot of ­cesium-­137 or strontium-­90), high-­level waste (HLW; also only bomb waste), and spent nuclear fuel (SNF; from commercial power plants only). In the United States, TRU waste, HLW, and SNF require deep geologic disposal by law.

The Decommissioning of Portsmouth’s X-326

November 14, 2022, 3:00PMRadwaste SolutionsGuest Contributor

In the 1950s, the U.S. Department of Energy constructed the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in rural southern Ohio to enrich uranium, alongside two other federally owned and managed facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Paducah, Ky. The Cold War-era plant was built as a self-sufficient industrial city with more than 400 buildings and facilities centered around three massive gaseous diffusion process buildings that could enrich the level of the uranium-235 isotope for nuclear fuel in the defense and energy sectors.

Building human capacity and maintaining trust in radioactive waste management

November 11, 2022, 3:05PMNuclear NewsMorgan Packer
The opening session of ICGR-6. (Photo: OECD NEA)

While deep geological repositories (DGRs) are the globally preferred and scientifically proven solution to store high-level radioactive waste, societal challenges remain. Given the long time frames associated with DGR development and implementation, and a rise in global interest in nuclear energy to meet urgent climate mitigation targets, building and maintaining human capacity is now even more of a priority.