ATTACHMENT B
LETTER OF REQUEST FOR THIS STUDY

The Under Secretary of Energy

Washington, DC 20585

June 28, 1999

Dr. Bruce Alberts

Chair, National Research Council

National Academy of Sciences

2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20418

Dear Dr. Alberts:

I am writing to request that the National Research Council conduct an independent technical review of the alternatives the Department of Energy is considering for processing the high-level radioactive waste (HLW) salt solutions as the Savannah River Site (SRS). The Department will probably select one of these alternatives as the preferred alternative. We will use the other alternatives as backup/technically viable to replace the In-Tank Precipitation (ITP) process on which work was stopped recently because of technical problems.

SRS was established during the early 1950s in support of the defense mission to produce plutonium and other materials for nuclear weapons. The 40-plus years of nuclear material production at the SRS has resulted in the generation of approximately 34 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste which is currently stored in large underground tanks at the site.

About 90 percent of this volume is comprised of salts and salt solutions that contain high levels of radioactive cesium, which was to be removed by the ITP process prior to treatment and immobilization. A systems engineering evaluation of all high-level waste salt separation processes was recently completed as a result of the problem with the ITP process. The Department is now considering three alternative processes to address the cesium removal problem.

The treatment of the HLW salts is a complex and costly technical challenge for the Department. The Department has spent about $489 million since 1983 at the SRS to design and construct facilities for cesium removal and is faced with the challenge of selecting and implementing an alternative process. We are proceeding with some urgency to identify an alternative to avoid costly disruptions to ongoing waste processing activities at the site. I am commmitted to ensuring that our decisions on a path forward have a sound technical basis.



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OCR for page 11
ATTACHMENT B LETTER OF REQUEST FOR THIS STUDY The Under Secretary of Energy Washington, DC 20585 June 28, 1999 Dr. Bruce Alberts Chair, National Research Council National Academy of Sciences 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20418 Dear Dr. Alberts: I am writing to request that the National Research Council conduct an independent technical review of the alternatives the Department of Energy is considering for processing the high-level radioactive waste (HLW) salt solutions as the Savannah River Site (SRS). The Department will probably select one of these alternatives as the preferred alternative. We will use the other alternatives as backup/technically viable to replace the In-Tank Precipitation (ITP) process on which work was stopped recently because of technical problems. SRS was established during the early 1950s in support of the defense mission to produce plutonium and other materials for nuclear weapons. The 40-plus years of nuclear material production at the SRS has resulted in the generation of approximately 34 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste which is currently stored in large underground tanks at the site. About 90 percent of this volume is comprised of salts and salt solutions that contain high levels of radioactive cesium, which was to be removed by the ITP process prior to treatment and immobilization. A systems engineering evaluation of all high-level waste salt separation processes was recently completed as a result of the problem with the ITP process. The Department is now considering three alternative processes to address the cesium removal problem. The treatment of the HLW salts is a complex and costly technical challenge for the Department. The Department has spent about $489 million since 1983 at the SRS to design and construct facilities for cesium removal and is faced with the challenge of selecting and implementing an alternative process. We are proceeding with some urgency to identify an alternative to avoid costly disruptions to ongoing waste processing activities at the site. I am commmitted to ensuring that our decisions on a path forward have a sound technical basis.

OCR for page 11
For several decades the National Research Council’s advice to the Department has been helpful in its efforts to bring good science and technology to bear in the environmental management program. I believe that the Council can now assist the Department as we proceed to identify and implement an alternative process for processing the HLW salt solutions at the SRS. Therefore, I would like to request that the Council review and make recommendations on the alternative options that have been recommended for processing the HLW salt solutions at the SRS. I would like this review to address the following points: Was an appropriately comprehensive set of cesium partitioning alternatives identified and are there other alternatives that should be explored? Was the process used to screen the alternatives technically sound and did its application result in the selection of appropriate preferred alternatives? Are there significant barriers to the implementation of any of the preferred alternatives taking into account their state of development and their ability to be integrated into the existing SRS HLW system? Are the planned R&D activities, including pilot-scale testing, adequate to support implementation of a single preferred alternative? Members of my staff have been in contact with Dr. Kevin Crowley of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management to discuss this project and develop the work scope for a National Research Council review I would like this review to begin immediately so that we can use the Council’s advice prior to making a final decision in April 2000. Additionally, I would like to receive a preliminary report from the Council by the end of September 1990 that identifies significant issues or problems with the alternatives so that we can factor this advice into our draft environmental impact statement (EIS). Following issuance of the draft EIS. I would expect the availability of your final report during the public comment period.

OCR for page 11
Mr. Ralph Erickson and his staff are the Department’s principal points of contact for this work. The Environmental Management Program will fund this project under the cooperative agreement with the Council’s Board on Radioactive Waste Management (DE-FC01-99EW59049). I appreciate the Council’s help on this very important project. Sincerely, Earnest J. Moniz