Savannah River Site’s H Canyon processing plant will expand its operations to accommodate 6,076 gallons of liquid radioactive material from Canada, the U.S. Department of Energy says.
The material from Atomic Energy Canada Limited’s Chalk River Laboratory is included in a nonproliferation effort aimed at recovering U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium distributed to research facilities in other countries.
The Canadian lab used highly enriched uranium for decades to produce molybdenum-99, a source of technetium, for medical diagnostic procedures.
The DOE said a contract has been signed in which Canada will pay $60 million over four years for SRS to receive and process the liquid, beginning as early as 2013.
Jim Giusti, a DOE spokesman, said the assignment to process the highly enriched uranium into low enriched uranium for use as commercial reactor fuel is good news for workers at the facility.
“This could definitely help the H Canyon staff to mitigate the impacts of sequestration and continuing resolutions,” he said.
The facility creates about 750 direct jobs and employs almost 1,100 workers if support service personnel in other areas are included.
The liquid radioactive material will be trucked to SRS in special shipping containers, but the routes, quantities and shipping dates are kept secret. Giusti said shipment plans will be coordinated with law enforcement and transportation officials in states along the route.
Processing the Canadian material will generate more radioactive waste at SRS.
Estimates indicate that the Canadian waste, when processed, would create about 1.5 million gallons of low-level waste that would be disposed of in the site’s Saltstone Facility, and enough high-level waste to fill an additional 24 steel canisters produced by the site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility.
Those quantities translate to about one additional month of operation for the Defense Waste Processing Facility and two for the Saltstone Facility.
Tom Clements, the Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, said the Canada project is more about bringing money to SRS than safeguarding bomb-grade materials.
“A decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to import 23,000 liters of liquid high-level waste from Canada is being presented as a nonproliferation effort, but in reality it is a waste-management issue in Canada and a monetary issue at the Savannah River Site,” Clements said, adding that Canada “is dumping their problem on SRS.”
Importing the Canadian material required amending SRS’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Environmental Impact Statement.
Spent fuel recovered from research reactors has been stored in the site’s L Basin, which is expected to reach capacity by 2016.
The amended spent nuclear fuel plan will allow the department to process enough material through 2018 to free up storage space in L Basin for additional nuclear material to be brought to South Carolina.
Freeing storage space by processing more material will avoid the need to modify or expand the L-Basin storage facility, saving about $40 million, the DOE said.