SRS nuclear waste travels in new breed of container

It weighs almost 21 tons – empty — and cost $12 million to design and build.


In August, the U.S. Energy Department completed an inaugural nuclear waste shipment from Savannah River Site to New Mexico, using its newest shipping container — the TRUPACT-III.

The reinforced boxes are made with inner and outer stainless steel plates and polyurethane foam. Pre-production tests included hoisting them 30 feet into the air and dropping them.

Materials loaded into the new boxes at SRS are “transuranic” wastes, such as plutonium-contaminated tools, equipment, clothing and soil.

Since 2001, more than 28,200 drums of transuranic wastes have been hauled away. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions took over the cleanup program in 2009 and is using American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds to accelerate the removal.

Jim Giusti, an Energy Department spokesman at SRS, said the first shipments of loaded TRUPACT-III containers left South Carolina by truck in mid-August and arrived at their destination Thursday.

The boxes will be permanently buried in rooms carved from a salt formation 2,150 feet below the surface of the WIPP facility, located 26 miles from Carlsbad, N.M.

Although most projects financed with $1.6 billion in stimulus dollars sent to SRS have been completed or are winding down, the lone exception is the tranuranic waste contract, which was extended through 2012.

Part of the reason for the extension, which includes retaining about 200 workers, was the time needed to develop and produce a container that is safer and more efficient than previous models.

“It is one reason but not the only reason,” Giusti said. “We saw it was taking longer than originally planned so that project was extended.”

The TRUPACT-III is currently in use only at SRS but it may be used at other locations with similar wastes, including the Hanford Site in Washington state, the Idaho National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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