About half of the uranium-233 waste stored in Building 3019 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been shipped to a disposal facility in Nevada.
The shipments were completed in August, said Jay Mullis, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.
But federal officials were only recently able to announce the end of the shipments of the waste from the Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Program, or CEUSP. The waste contained radioisotopes of uranium from a 1960s research and development test of thorium and uranium reactor fuel at the Consolidated Edison Indian Point-1 reactor in New York. The test was sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission, a predecessor to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The shipments were completed 10 months ahead of schedule, Mullis told the Oak Ridge Site Specific Advisory Board on Wednesday, November 8. The CEUSP waste had been treated and turned into a ceramic matrix. It was shipped from Building 3019 at ORNL, where it had been stored, to the Nevada National Security Site, a former nuclear weapons proving ground about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. DOE started shipping the waste materials to the Nevada National Security Site in May 2015.
Removing all of the U-233 waste from Building 3019 could allow ORNL to relax its overall security posture, which will reduce costs, eliminate nuclear safety issues, and make the campus more conducive to collaborative science, according to a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee report published in July. (Oak Ridge Today has requested information on the security costs associated with Building 3019, and we will provide that information when it becomes available.)
The CEUSP waste was about half of the U-233 waste based on isotopic inventory, Mullis said after the SSAB meeting this month. Uranium-233 is a radioactive isotope of uranium that does not exist in nature but can be produced by bombarding thorium-232 with neutrons.
In August, Mullis said there is other U-233 waste stored in Building 3019, including from glovebox research at ORNL, from reactor plates, and from conglomerate materials. At least some of that waste will be treated, or “downblended,” at Building 2026, across the street from Building 3019. The DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management owns both buildings.
In October, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported that the shipments of low-level U-233 waste to Nevada by Isotek Systems LLC, a contractor to the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, had also included what are described as Zero Power Reactor plates. The Isotek shipments addressed roughly 50 percent of the canister inventory stored at Building 3019, the DNFSB said.
“Isotek personnel plan to process the remaining inventory at the neighboring facility, Building 2026, prior to disposal,” the board said.
It’s not clear if the non-CEUSP waste will, like the CEUSP waste, also be shipped to Nevada.
“We have not determined the disposition location for that material yet,” Ben Williams, spokesperson for the DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management told Oak Ridge Today for a story published in August.
That’s when Oak Ridge Today last reported on the U-233 waste, after the Trump administration and the U.S. House and Senate proposed spending between about $33 million and $52 million this fiscal year to continue disposing of the uranium-233 waste materials, which are stored in secure vaults in Building 3019. That facility was built in the 1940s at ORNL, and it is the oldest continuously operating nuclear facility in the U.S. Department of Energy complex.
In 2007, DOE’s Office of Environmental Management determined that the continued storage of U-233 in Building 3019 was a significant burden on safety, safeguards, security, and finances.
In an August 2014 analysis, the U.S. Department of Energy said it had not identified any need for the CEUSP materials, and Building 3019 at ORNL has serious challenges. It is difficult to maintain that building, which is now about seven decades old, and to ensure that its security systems are adequate, the analysis said. DOE cited the concerns of both the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.
Low-level waste typically consists of containers of debris, trash, soil, equipment, tools, and personal protective clothing. The CEUSP waste was managed as special nuclear material that required stringent management controls and procedures for both material protection (assuring protection of the material from theft or diversions) and physical security.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2017 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.