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Energy Department rejects SRS advisory board request for nuclear waste inventory

Monday, Jan. 30, 2012 10:33 AM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012 1:27 AM
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The U.S. Department of Energy has rejected an oversight board’s request that federal officials maintain a more comprehensive status report on Savannah River Site’s growing volume and variety of stored nuclear waste.

A Savannah River Remediation worker operates machinery within the government's Defense Waste Processing Facility, which converts high-level liquid radioactive waste into glass that is sealed in steel cannisters to await permanent disposal. Since 1996, the facility has poured 3,339 cannisters of stabilized waste - with about 4,200 more cannisters still needed. The cannisters will remain stored at Savannah River Site until decisions are made about their final disposition.  Joel Whisenant
Joel Whisenant
A Savannah River Remediation worker operates machinery within the government's Defense Waste Processing Facility, which converts high-level liquid radioactive waste into glass that is sealed in steel cannisters to await permanent disposal. Since 1996, the facility has poured 3,339 cannisters of stabilized waste - with about 4,200 more cannisters still needed. The cannisters will remain stored at Savannah River Site until decisions are made about their final disposition.

“SRS was never intended, studied or tested to be a long-term repository for nuclear wastes and by-products,” the SRS Citizens Advisory Board’s request said. “Recent developments related to the Yucca Mountain Repository have raised the level of concern about how DOE plans to meet its commitments to SRS stakeholders; i.e., to expeditiously disposition waste from SRS to a designated national repository.”

The 25-member board asked for a one-time preliminary report that would include more details on both nuclear and hazardous wastes in L Basin, the H and F area tank farms, K Area, Glass Waste Storage Building and other areas.

That initial report, the board said, would need to be updated periodically and should categorize those wastes by source, quantity and type of material; and list a disposition path for each material, including an estimated “final disposition” date.

In a Jan. 19 response sent to board Chairman Donald Bridges, SRS site manager David C. Moody said federal officials would not comply with the request.

“DOE-SR appreciates the CAB’s interest in this site’s nuclear material and waste storage and disposition activities,” Moody said. “However, DOE-SR rejects this recommendation.”

DOE, he said, believes that current disclosures and periodic presentations to the board and to the public “provide the information needed to support a forum for open discussions regarding government plans, actions and decisions.”

Moody did say that changing missions at the site’s H Canyon warrant updated information that will be provided to the board; and that updates are also warranted regarding the site’s used nuclear fuel inventory, which is expanding as more and more nuclear material is recovered and moved to SRS for safekeeping.

The spent fuel program is part of a global nonproliferation initiative in which SRS houses about 15,000 assemblies in its L Area storage facility. The material is from both foreign and domestic research reactors and contains highly enriched uranium – a critical ingredient of nuclear weapons.

Although available storage space is nearly full, the National Nuclear Security Administration has said its program will continue through 2019, with an additional 4,884 assemblies already identified for shipment to South Carolina.

Other nuclear materials at the site include high-level liquid waste left behind from Cold War-era weapons production programs; and surplus plutonium from dismantled warheads that is expected to be converted to commercial reactor fuel at the site’s mixed oxide
plant now under construction.

Much of the Cold War liquid waste is being converted to a solid glass form through a process known as vitrification.

The SRS facility known as the Defense Waste Processing Facility is the largest such plant in the world and has processed about 3,339 canisters of waste – almost halfway through the 7,557 canisters needed to dispose of the existing volume of waste.

Those canisters remain stored at SRS with no clear decision in sight as to when they will leave the state or where they will be taken. The government’s Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was long considered a destination for that material, but the Obama administration canceled that project.


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