DOE might bury more radioactive waste at Hanford

Tri-City Herald: Local

DOE might bury more radioactive waste at Hanford

Published Saturday, July 21st, 2007


The Department of Energy is considering burying some additional commercial and other nonweapons radioactive waste at Hanford.

DOE announced Friday it plans an environmental impact study to look at what to do with certain waste now stored where it was generated and waste the government expects to be produced by 2035. Hanford is one of about 10 sites DOE is considering for disposal of the waste.

The low-level radioactive waste is left from decommissioning nuclear power plants, nuclear research and commercial activities such as radiological medicine applications and food irradiation. It totals about 7,280 cubic yards.

That’s a relatively small amount by Hanford standards, where the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility was built to hold 12 million cubic yards of Hanford cleanup waste. But the additional waste could require special disposal methods.

It’s classified as “greater than Class C low-level waste,” which means it has the highest concentration of radionuclides of the four classes of low-level radioactive waste. Among its contents are activated metals from the maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants and radioactive sealed sources once used for food irradiation or medical purposes.

If Hanford is picked as the disposal site, waste would be buried in either a borehole or nearer the ground’s surface.

A borehole would be drilled deep into the ground and then filled with waste up to 99 feet from the ground’s surface. Remaining space would then be filled with clean soil.

Alternately, waste could be disposed of nearer to the ground’s surface in engineered trenches or vaults. They would offer better containment than a lined landfill such as the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility and include added features such as barriers, deeper depth or increased waste packaging.

The 7,280 cubic yards of waste includes 3,900 cubic meters of radioactive government waste generated from nondefense activities. That is unlike the Hanford waste that was produced by the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The nondefense waste also could include some transuranic waste similar to the low-level waste. At Hanford, transuranic waste typically is contaminated with plutonium, but transuranic waste can include any manmade isotope heavier than uranium. Most defense transuranic waste is buried at a national geological repository in New Mexico, but that site does not accept nonweapons waste.

DOE also is looking at whether the waste could be buried at federal sites in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Tennessee or South Carolina or at an unspecified commercial location. Sending the waste to DOE national repositories, either the Waste Isolation Plant in New Mexico or Yucca Mountain in Nevada, also will be considered, along with any required legal or regulatory changes.

DOE could choose a combination of the sites to dispose of the waste.

Voters in Washington made clear in 2004 that they did not want more radioactive waste sent to Washington. Voters in every county but Benton and Franklin approved Initiative 297, which was intended to bar more radioactive waste from being sent to Hanford until waste already there is cleaned up. However, that initiative remains tied up in the courts and has not been implemented.

DOE plans a meeting Aug. 28 in Pasco on the environmental study, but no location or time has been announced. A notice for the study will be published Monday in the Federal Register.

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