Synopsis

The focus of the recommendations in this report is on more effectively characterizing and treating the orphan and special-case wastes in the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s (EM’s) accelerated cleanup program. Most of these wastes are outside EM’s current focus on dealing with its high-level tank wastes and stored transuranic wastes. Nevertheless, the “orphans” have the potential to interfere with site closure schedules and will become more significant as EM closes out its facilities capable of handling them. This synopsis highlights only some of the committee’s advice and it not a substitute for the more detailed discussion and recommendations in the text.

  1. For any given waste, consider first administrative procedures to simplify its characterization and treatment, as discussed in Chapter 2:

  • If the waste is classified, consider declassifying it or destroying its classified attributes to remove the stringent access control requirements that apply to classified materials.

  • Consider using a CERCLA removal action rather than a remedial action to expedite dealing with wastes that present a major risk, for example the 618-10/11 burial ground caissons at Hanford.

  • Consider leaving wastes in place if they present little risk or if removing them with currently available technology would present more hazards than leaving them alone, as discussed in Chapter 4.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program Synopsis The focus of the recommendations in this report is on more effectively characterizing and treating the orphan and special-case wastes in the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s (EM’s) accelerated cleanup program. Most of these wastes are outside EM’s current focus on dealing with its high-level tank wastes and stored transuranic wastes. Nevertheless, the “orphans” have the potential to interfere with site closure schedules and will become more significant as EM closes out its facilities capable of handling them. This synopsis highlights only some of the committee’s advice and it not a substitute for the more detailed discussion and recommendations in the text. For any given waste, consider first administrative procedures to simplify its characterization and treatment, as discussed in Chapter 2: If the waste is classified, consider declassifying it or destroying its classified attributes to remove the stringent access control requirements that apply to classified materials. Consider using a CERCLA removal action rather than a remedial action to expedite dealing with wastes that present a major risk, for example the 618-10/11 burial ground caissons at Hanford. Consider leaving wastes in place if they present little risk or if removing them with currently available technology would present more hazards than leaving them alone, as discussed in Chapter 4.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program For stored wastes, wastes that are likely to be retrieved, e.g., some buried transuranic wastes (TRU), or wastes to be generated in EM facility decommissioning, consider the trade-offs between utilizing existing treatment capabilities and providing alternative treatments, as discussed in Chapter 3: Some facilities, e.g., the Oak Ridge incinerator, offer EM a unique treatment capability that will be lost when the facility is closed. Consider decoupling these facilities from site decommissioning schedules and maintaining them as EM assets until it is certain that they are no longer needed. Some new facilities, e.g., the INEEL Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility (AMWTF), the SRS Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF), and the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), which is being built at Hanford, have the technical capability to treat wastes beyond their current scope. Consider using the AMWTF to treat retrieved TRU, remote-handled TRU, and mixed low-level wastes in addition to treating the stored, contact-handled TRU for which the facility was built. Consider encapsulating small volumes of highly radioactive or fissile materials in vitrified wastes at the DWPF or the WTP using the “can-in-canister” approach developed for disposing of plutonium residues in DWPF canisters. Shipping the small volumes of orphan wastes is a significant, mainly non-technical challenge recognized in Chapter 1, but not addressed in this report. EM might consider that working with regulators and other involved stakeholders to agree, on a case-by-case basis, on the disposition plans for an orphan waste may be an opportunity to improve relations with all stakeholders, a need raised by citizens during the committee’s site visits.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program Executive Summary The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) commissioned this study by the National Academies’ Board on Radioactive Waste Management (BRWM) to provide technical advice for its accelerated site cleanup program. EM was established in 1989 to manage the cleanup of waste and environmental contamination that resulted from World War II and Cold War-era production of nuclear materials at more than 100 sites around the country. At one time, EM estimated that completing the cleanup would cost $300 billion and require 70 years. In 2002, as the result of a DOE review of the cleanup program, EM, working with federal and state regulators and local governments, developed an accelerated program for completing its mission by the year 2035 at a total life-cycle cost of about $142 billion.1 Currently, EM is considering how the schedule and costs might be reduced further without compromising worker safety and public health. The prospectus and task statement for this study directed the study committee2 to identify opportunities for improving EM’s waste characterization and treatment capabilities. Specifically, the committee was asked to identify opportunities for EM to: 1   Department of Energy FY 2005 Congressional Budget Request. Assistant Secretary Jessie H. Roberson’s FY 2005 Background Information for the Budget Rollout Presentation. Department of Energy. February. Available at http://web.em.doe.gov/budget_docs.html. 2   The Committee on Opportunities for Accelerating Characterization and Treatment of Wastes at DOE Nuclear Weapons Sites is referred to as the committee throughout this report.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program make more effective use of its existing facilities and capabilities for waste characterization and treatment, including eliminating self-imposed requirements that have no clear safety or technical basis; improve its treatment and characterization capabilities especially for “orphan” wastes; and invest in new technologies to achieve these improvements. The committee was not tasked to review or comment on other aspects of the accelerated cleanup program or to address waste issues outside the scope of the EM mission.3 To fulfill its task, the committee sought to identify major opportunities that are within EM’s ability to implement in the time frame of the accelerated cleanup program and that have the greatest potential for saving time and money without compromising EM’s health and safety commitments. The committee visited EM’s four largest sites: the Oak Ridge Reservation, Tennessee; the Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina; the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL); and the Hanford Site, Washington. These four sites face EM’s biggest waste characterization and treatment challenges, their challenges are mostly inclusive of those at the smaller sites, and they present the biggest opportunities for improvement. Due to time and budget limitations, the committee did not attempt to be comprehensive in identifying all possible opportunities at the four largest sites or to identify specific needs at the smaller sites. Although recognizing the importance of the many non-technical issues—and challenges—that bear on EM’s accelerated cleanup program, the committee did not attempt to pre-judge how non-technical issues, which are noted in Chapter 1, might limit or foreclose valid technical opportunities. Nevertheless, it is clear that for accelerated cleanup to succeed, EM must collaborate with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state regulators, local governments, and other involved stakeholders. All of EM’s proposed cleanup activities require the support of regulators and other stakeholders outside of EM and the field offices. ADMINISTRATIVE OPPORTUNITIES In initiating this study, EM encouraged the committee to identify opportunities to eliminate self-imposed DOE requirements that have no clear technical or safety basis. The committee found obstacles to accelerated 3   For example currently generated and future wastes from the National Nuclear Security Administration, other DOE offices, Nuclear Navy, and others. Some legacy cleanups, e.g., the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, are also outside the scope of the EM program and this report.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program cleanup in such requirements as continued security classification of Manhattan Project-era equipment being disposed as waste, apparent reluctance by the sites and their contractors to pursue available options under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and excessively strict interpretations by DOE site and contractor personnel of waste characterization and treatment requirements. Recommendation: EM headquarters and sites should aggressively pursue opportunities to simplify and expedite waste characterization, treatment, and disposal by working with the responsible classification offices to declassify, to the extent possible, classified materials declared as wastes, better utilizing the waste removal provisions of CERCLA, and developing more consistent interpretations among sites of waste acceptance requirements and accelerated cleanup objectives. Classified Wastes EM has a significant opportunity to save time and money by taking aggressive measures to declassify materials and equipment that are to be disposed as waste. The committee became aware of the obstacles imposed by classified Manhattan Project-era waste during open-meeting discussions of decommissioning of the Oak Ridge K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, which presents one of EM’s biggest decommissioning challenges. As long as diffusion plant equipment remains classified, only employees with security clearances can work on the program. This results in a reduced labor pool, increased labor costs, extended cleanup time, and significant increase in waste volume due to packaging requirements. The waste must be sent to classified burial grounds with long-term security and surveillance obligations and their associated costs. DOE’s gaseous diffusion equipment at Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, is likely to present inefficiencies similar to those at Oak Ridge—as is classified waste at other sites. EM and its sites should be aggressive in taking appropriate measures to declassify such wastes, for example by destroying their classified shape, composition, or other attributes, as early as possible in the steps of their removal, handling, treatment, and disposal. Opportunities Under CERCLA CERCLA provides broad federal authority to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. In discussions with site and regulatory personnel, the

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program committee became aware of two provisions under CERCLA that could facilitate accelerated cleanup. The first, greater use of DOE’s removal authority, would help reduce the planning and approval periods for recovering wastes, and the second would assist EM in removing unexploded ordnance from previous Department of Defense (DOD) operations at INEEL. Removal Authority. Executive Order 12580, Superfund Implementation, confers removal authority to DOE and other federal agencies under Section 104 of CERCLA. Removal authority can reduce the planning and paperwork phases of a cleanup action—as opposed to remedial authority under which DOE conducts most of its site cleanup. DOD is emphasizing the use of removal authority in fast-track cleanup of its closure sites, which closely parallels DOE’s accelerated cleanup program. Munitions Removal at INEEL. During its visit to INEEL, the committee learned that EM resources are being used for clearing military munitions remaining on parts of the site used in the 1940s as a firing range for testing large naval guns and other weapons. DOD, rather than DOE, has statutory responsibility for cleanup actions involving past and present military munitions under the CERCLA National Contingency Plan. EM has an opportunity to save time and money by working with DOD to place a high priority on DOD’s recovering and disposing of these legacy munitions at the Idaho site. Inconsistent Approaches The semiautonomous operation of the major DOE sites leads them to use different approaches and procedures for cleanup. Although autonomy may offer advantages, the committee found two general areas in which it promotes activities that have no technical or safety basis but reduce efficiencies and increase costs: Overly restrictive interpretation of existing requirements for characterizing and sorting transuranic (TRU) waste, coupled with lack of criteria for remote-handled TRU and wastes intended for Yucca Mountain. Demolishing new or uncontaminated facilities that pose little if any long-term risk. Characterization, Sorting, and Waste Acceptance. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) waste acceptance criteria and waste analysis plan comprise a complex set of requirements that must be met by each DOE site to dispose of TRU wastes at WIPP. Each site, working with EM, state officials and the EPA, has written its own procedures to meet these requirements. A previous study4 found that there are three TRU waste characterization

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program activities that are apparently conducted only for regulatory compliance and do not seem to reduce risk: sampling and analyzing gases from the headspace of waste drums; sampling and analysis of homogeneous wastes; and manual sorting and visual examination to confirm the results of drum radiography. Based on its own visits to the waste characterization facilities at SRS, Hanford, and INEEL, the committee endorses the previous study’s conclusions and suggestions that EM and the sites review these characterization activities for possible modifications, such as reduced sampling frequency, that would remain in compliance with regulations but could save time, money, and the potential risks of operators handling and sorting the waste. The lack of formal WIPP waste acceptance criteria for TRU wastes that require remote handling is a significant impediment to accelerated cleanup. A priority for EM should be to accelerate negotiations with the State of New Mexico to resolve permitting issues so that sites can proceed with their planning for remote-handled TRU waste packaging and shipping. Another issue that appears to be slowing down decisions and work planning is uncertainty about the future acceptance criteria for DOE waste intended for the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada, repository. Each site is making assumptions regarding how to characterize, treat, and package wastes and even which wastes will be accepted. The sites, EM, the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, which has overall responsibility for the proposed repository, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must approve DOE’s license application, need to agree on a consistent approach to preparing wastes for disposal in that facility, with one office having oversight authority. Building Demolition. EM’s stated strategy for the accelerated cleanup program is to eliminate the sites’ most significant environmental, health, and safety risks as soon as possible and to address less significant risks later. In its site visits, the committee became aware that facilities posing little risk—many are not contaminated or in structural jeopardy—are being dismantled or demolished as near-term priorities. Although the committee appreciates the sites’ needs to show visible progress and shrink their operating areas (footprints), as well as save “mortgage” costs, these actions appear to be inconsistent with EM’s intent to use its limited resources to achieve the greatest risk reductions first. 4   Improving the Characterization Program for Contact-Handled Transuranic Waste Bound for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (NRC, 2004).

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program IMPROVED AND EXTENDED USE OF EXISTING FACILITIES The committee believes that the accelerated cleanup can best be kept on track, or further accelerated, if a limited number of facilities with unique capabilities are maintained as corporate resources, instead of being tied to their host site’s decommissioning schedules and budgets. Premature closure of these facilities to fit a specific site’s schedule could seriously delay the overall EM program because their capabilities cannot be replaced by other DOE or commercial resources. The committee does not suggest automatically retaining or upgrading these facilities, but rather that EM review their unique capabilities and possible needs for those capabilities before committing to decommissioning them. Recommendation: EM should consider managing the following facilities as corporate assets for the characterization and treatment of both mainstream and special-case or “orphan” wastes: Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) incinerator at Oak Ridge H-Canyon at Savannah River T-Plant at Hanford High-level waste (HLW) calciner at Idaho Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility (AMWTF) at Idaho Vitrification Facilities at Savannah River and Hanford Existing groundwater-monitoring wells at all sites. The TSCA incinerator, H-Canyon, and T-Plant are existing facilities that each provide a unique capability, respectively, for treating combustible mixed wastes; reprocessing spent DOE nuclear fuels; and treating large, highly contaminated equipment. Based on presentations to the committee and a previous BRWM study,5 it appears that upgrading and restarting the INEEL calciner, or converting it to a steam reformer as noted in the next section, would provide a means to treat that site’s million gallons of sodium-bearing reprocessing waste. The AMWTF and the vitrification facilities, in addition to their current missions, offer opportunities for improving and extending EM’s capabilities to treat, respectively, TRU wastes that will continue to be recovered from the major sites throughout EM’s mission and “orphan” spent fuels and fissile materials that can be encapsulated along with vitrified high-level waste.6 In addition, the committee noted that many of the existing ground- 5   Alternative High-Level Waste Treatments at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (NRC, 2000c). 6   The Spent-Fuel Standard for Disposition of Excess Weapon Plutonium: Application to Current DOE Options (NAS, 2000).

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program water-monitoring wells at the sites are essential resources for characterizing and ensuring the continued safety of the buried wastes and contaminated media that will remain after EM has completed its mission. TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS In reviewing technologies for possible investment, the committee selected four with applicability to cleanup problems that, if developed, could significantly accelerate cleanup. Recommendation: EM should continue developing and deploying new or improved technologies that address limitations in current characterization and treatment capabilities. The committee recommends investments in steam reforming, improved high-level waste vitrification, “no-consequence” TRU shipping containers, and state-of-the-art sensors for environmental monitoring. Steam Reforming Steam reforming is a commercial technology similar to calcination. The process is capable of producing a stable material from a wide variety of waste liquids and slurries, including the sodium-bearing wastes at INEEL. With further development, steam reforming could be implemented by upgrading the INEEL calciner to treat INEEL wastes and to demonstrate the process for treating orphan sludges and slurries throughout the EM complex. Steam reforming is also a promising technology for treating low-activity waste streams from the Waste Treatment Plant being constructed at Hanford. Steam reforming is a lower-temperature alternative to the bulk vitrification planned for these wastes, and thus should encounter fewer waste-component volatility problems. HLW Vitrification Technology investments that lead to increasing the waste loading or production rate of vitrified high-level tank waste at SRS and Hanford are likely to provide EM with opportunities for large cost and schedule reductions. The committee found two areas for technology investment for EM to improve HLW vitrification: further development of frit and glass-melting chemistry, and new approaches for putting energy into the melters.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program Frit development, an ongoing activity for many years, continues to offer opportunities for improved throughput at the SRS Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF), and will be necessary to ensure successful vitrification of the much more heterogeneous tank wastes at Hanford. Microwave heating appears to be a very promising method for adding supplemental heat at specific locations in glass melters to help stabilize their operations and increase throughput. “No-Consequence” Container For shipping TRU wastes to WIPP, there has long been concern over whether a flammable mixture might arise within the shipping container due to radiolysis or other reactions in the waste and result in deflagration with sufficient energy to breach the containment. In spite of considerable work by EM to ensure that its waste packages meet U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits on flammable gas concentrations, some few thousand drums will continue to face shipping restrictions. Currently, the only available alternative is to remove the wastes from these drums and distribute them among new drums, with the repacking ratio expected to be 10 to 20 new drums for each original drum. The concept of a robust no-consequence container that could withstand a worst case hydrogen deflagration is an appealing solution to the problem. Technology to develop this type of container is nearly mature. Further investment to deploy the technology would alleviate the detailed measures the EM sites must now take to ensure that drums facing shipping restrictions due to flammable gas generation can be safely shipped to WIPP. Sensors for Environmental Monitoring Sensors and their associated technologies for environmental monitoring are well developed and continue to be improved. However, EM sites currently rely on point measurements (sampling), which are relatively expensive and time consuming. Modern geophysical sensors can provide continuous measurements in time and space that could fill gaps in information between monitoring wells, enable rapid mapping of large areas, deliver information on waste characteristics as well as subsurface hydrogeology, and be developed into long-term monitoring networks. Additional investments in sensor technology and research, particularly in the use of geophysical sensors to understand hydrologic processes, can expedite the transition from hands-on sampling to modern, cost-effective monitoring.

OCR for page 1
Improving the Characterization and Treatment of Radioactive Wastes for the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Site Cleanup Program MANAGE-IN-PLACE TECHNOLOGIES This committee, other NRC committees, EM, its regulators, and many local citizens realize that it is not possible to totally remove all of the legacy waste and environmental contamination from DOE sites. EM’s accelerated cleanup plans are predicated on leaving a good deal of buried wastes, subsurface contamination, and some contaminated facilities in place, and transitioning them to DOE’s recently formed Office of Legacy Management for long-term stewardship. A scientifically defensible and technically sound approach for characterizing and treating (stabilizing) in-place wastes is essential for EM’s accelerated cleanup. Recommendation: For waste that EM considers leaving in place, the committee recommends that EM broaden the use of the cocooning concept as currently applied to the Hanford reactors. The cocooning approach provides stabilization and monitoring of wastes left in place, a clear understanding of current benefits and future liabilities for all stakeholders, and the possibility of adapting to changes that will inevitably arise in the future. In its fact finding, the committee noted that reactor “cocooning” at Hanford is an instructive conceptual approach to managing waste in place. Reactor cocooning involves demolishing and removing all of a reactor’s ancillary buildings and the reactor building itself, except for the thick shielding walls around the defueled reactor core, which is left in place. All involved parties (stakeholders) have a clear understanding of future commitments for, for example, monitoring and periodically reentering the remaining structure for inspections and making repairs as necessary and eventually determining its final disposition. The committee believes that the cocooning concept—stabilize wastes or contamination in place for now; monitor until radioactive decay, other natural processes, or new technologies make ultimate cleanup feasible or unnecessary; adapt to new knowledge; and make responsibilities clear to all stakeholders—can be usefully applied by EM to meet its accelerated cleanup goals.