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Nuclear waste in search of home

Utah still resisting 5,408-drum trainload

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A trainload of depleted uranium sent to Utah in December should be returned to Savannah River Site, according to environmental groups who contend the waste exceeds existing state standards for such material.

"There is no way in which the 5,000 drums sitting in Utah right now could fit under the low-level waste rule," said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, during a news conference Wednesday in Utah. "I think these drums should be sent back."

In all, the U.S. Energy Department planned to ship about 15,000 barrels of depleted uranium to an EnergySolutions disposal site in Clive, Utah.

The first shipment -- 5,408 barrels -- arrived Dec. 17 and two additional trainloads were scheduled to be shipped this month.

Last week, however, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert asked federal authorities to halt additional shipments until Utah can complete a revision of its waste rules.

Makhijani and other scientists affiliated with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah characterized the SRS waste as more sinister than typical commercial reactor low-level wastes because the depleted uranium is reprocessed material created during decades of nuclear weapons production.

"It's not your garden variety of depleted uranium from enrichment of fuel for nuclear power plants," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the alliance. "Our concern is that disposing of depleted uranium from nuclear waste reprocessing is a significant decision -- and warrants public debate and technical analysis."

The group also said the Energy Department should clarify an apparent contradiction over what it told EnergySolutions and what it told Herbert.

Herbert's spokesman has said the department agreed to remove the waste from Utah if tests conclude it is not acceptable.

However, EnergySolutions CEO Val Christensen told investors in a recent conference call that he had been assured by the department that the waste eventually would be buried in the Utah site.

"We're calling on the DOE to make clear its plans for the waste," Pierce said. "If it's not coming to Utah, it's important to know where it is going."

A report prepared by the group shows the reprocessed uranium stockpile exceeds by 300 times the amount of uranium considered for disposal under federal low-level waste rules. And because the reprocessed uranium contains a cocktail of regulated and unregulated radioisotopes, it cannot be considered Class A under current law.

"Other federal and state agencies are busy amending their regulations to make sure depleted uranium is disposed of safely, and the DOE tried to pre-empt these new health and safety standards by sending their waste here before new protections go into effect," Pierce said.

DOE officials have said the waste would have taken several more years to pack and ship, but the cleanup program was accelerated through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, which allocated $1.4 billion to SRS, mostly to speed up environmental management projects.

Energy Department spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said efforts to resolve the issues remain under study.

The process includes considering sites other than Utah and continued assessment of disposal criteria, the statement said.

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Riverman1 03/04/10 - 05:53 am
If this stuff is liquid here

If this stuff is liquid here is what we do. Punch holes in the drums, load them on trucks and drive down the road letting it all leak out like the carpet cleaning vans do with their waste. Have them drive down Atomic Rd. while leaking it all out. Road name fits.

gransom 03/04/10 - 07:49 am
$1.4 Billion already spent,

$1.4 Billion already spent, and nowhere to put it now nor to keep it for the coming thousands of years.
Are you paying attention Georgia Power customers?

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/04/10 - 10:28 am
SCEagleEye mentioned in last

SCEagleEye mentioned in last Friday's article that there is a distinction between uranium left over from the enrichment process (called “depleted uranium” for decades) and the uranium recovered from spent reactor fuel reprocessing (called “reprocessed uranium”). What SCEagleEye said was that reprocessed uranium contains trace impurities of other isotopes (such as plutonium and technetium). In practicality there is probably no meaningful difference, but Utah is making a big deal out of this.

I wonder what is an example of an "unregulated radioisotope" mentioned in the above article? Potassium-40 comes to mind, but it would be irrelevant in a discussion of depleted uranium waste or reprocessed uranium waste.

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