Savannah River Site waste shipments waiting for New Mexico repository to reopen

Savannah River Site has continued to prepare shipments of Cold War nuclear waste materials for an underground government repository in New Mexico that has been shuttered since a radiation release in February.

U.S. Department of Energy officials at SRS said they are confident the South Carolina site can complete the remaining shipments of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.

No date has been announced for when the repository will begin accepting materials again for burial in an ancient salt bed deep beneath the desert.

The repository stopped taking all waste shipments after an underground truck caught fire on Feb. 5. Nine days later, a radiation release contaminated workers.

Transuranic waste is a widely varied form of low-level waste that includes tools, lab coats, debris and other items contaminated with radiation during the site’s production related to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

SRS last sent a shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant during the week of Feb. 3. As of this week, 617 cubic meters stored at the site await disposal.

“We have approximately 125 shipments remaining to complete the legacy (transuranic) waste program. We are very, very close,” DOE official Sandra Waisley said Tuesday at a meeting of the SRS Citizen Advisory Board.

The DOE’s fiscal year 2015 budget request includes funding to complete shipments of transuranic waste, Waisley said.

“Legacy (transuranic) waste is currently stored safely and securely in above-ground storage in facilities located in the center of the site,” she said.

Savannah River National Laboratory has assisted in an ongoing investigation and analysis of the origin of the radioactive release.

There are no plans to return any SRS shipments that remain above ground waiting burial in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

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