First waste shipment in three years leaves SRS

A shipment of transuranic waste left Savannah River Site on Wednesday for first time in three years.

 

The shipment of TRU waste left the gates for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, which reopened at the beginning of the year. WIPP was shut down in 2014 after a truck caught fire in the underground mines.

WIPP is a deep geological repository, dug into the salt basin deep beneath the desert floor. The salt will naturally collapse in over time, encapsulated and isolating the waste from human exposure.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, owner of both SRS and WIPP, transuranic waste are materials that are themselves radioactive or contaminated with radioactive materials with an atomic number higher than uranium.

“The TRU waste itself falls into three broad category groups related to the physical form of packaged or repackaged TRU waste; homogeneous solids, soil and gravel, and debris,” an Energy Department spokesman said.

Among items eligible for shipment to WIPP is the “downblended” plutonium. Downblending is a process that takes excess, non-weapons plutonium and mixes it with inert materials. The mixture is designed to render the plutonium useless as a measure of nuclear non-proliferation.

The spokesman said the DOE could not comment on the specific contents of the shipment, but said the department does expect some SRS downblended plutonium to be included in the eight scheduled shipments to WIPP.

The materials are shipped in what are called TRUPACT-II containers by a semi-truck and trailer. The containers are designed to meet testing standards that the DOE says are far above typical highway accidents.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifies all shipping containers. The TRUPACT-II underwent extensive testing at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to the Vehicle Research Center, a TRUPACT-II can withstand an accident nearly 20 times more severe than an average highway accident,” the DOE spokesman said.

South Carolina politicians have urged the Energy Department to remove nuclear material from SRS for several years, many repeating that the Palmetto State would not become a “nuclear dumping ground.”

“I appreciate the leadership of Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in starting the process of moving nuclear waste out of South Carolina to a long-term repository. However, I am still committed to ensuring that the Department of Energy continue to consider the technical merits of Yucca Mountain as a sustainable, permanent pathway for the disposition of high level waste,” said Representative Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

The shipment was previously delayed due to storms last week and becomes the second shipment to arrive at WIPP since its reopening. The upcoming shipment schedule is not publicly available due to safety concerns, but the DOE said SRS shipments will be interwoven with shipments from similar sites like Los Alamos, Idaho Falls, and Argonne National Laboratory.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com

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