Appendix A

Background Information

The material in this appendix provides background information on the long-term performance of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as well as waste characterization and transportation activities associated with the National TRU Program.

Assessment of Long-Term Performance

The ability of WIPP to isolate radioactive waste from the accessible environment has been studied and modeled in a performance assessment calculation. The performance assessment organizes information relevant to long-term (i.e., over a 10,000-year period) repository behavior by assessing the probability and consequence of major scenarios by which radionuclides can be released to the environment surrounding the WIPP site. Important scenarios include those due to human activities, whether deliberate or unintentional, that might occur near the WIPP site and potentially compromise the integrity of the repository. For example, drilling for hydrocarbon resources in formations underlying WIPP is currently practiced in the Delaware Basin on land surrounding the WIPP site; therefore, stylized “human intrusion” scenarios in which future boreholes are drilled through WIPP have been analyzed in the performance assessment model.

Using this performance assessment, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has modeled the long-term performance of the WIPP repository to meet regulatory requirements. As specified by the 1992 Land Withdrawal Act (P.L. 102-579) passed by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the external regulatory authority for WIPP, using as a regulatory standard the rule 40 CFR 191.1 The performance assessment model formed the basis of the 1996 DOE application to the EPA to obtain a certificate of compliance with the 40 CFR 191 standard to open and operate WIPP. The EPA granted this certificate in 1998, and EPA oversight continues in periodic (i.e., every five years)

1  

For compliance with the standard of 40 CFR 191, the EPA issued rule 40 CFR 194 in 1996 to provide a regulatory interpretation of how these requirements would apply to WIPP.



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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT Appendix A Background Information The material in this appendix provides background information on the long-term performance of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as well as waste characterization and transportation activities associated with the National TRU Program. Assessment of Long-Term Performance The ability of WIPP to isolate radioactive waste from the accessible environment has been studied and modeled in a performance assessment calculation. The performance assessment organizes information relevant to long-term (i.e., over a 10,000-year period) repository behavior by assessing the probability and consequence of major scenarios by which radionuclides can be released to the environment surrounding the WIPP site. Important scenarios include those due to human activities, whether deliberate or unintentional, that might occur near the WIPP site and potentially compromise the integrity of the repository. For example, drilling for hydrocarbon resources in formations underlying WIPP is currently practiced in the Delaware Basin on land surrounding the WIPP site; therefore, stylized “human intrusion” scenarios in which future boreholes are drilled through WIPP have been analyzed in the performance assessment model. Using this performance assessment, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has modeled the long-term performance of the WIPP repository to meet regulatory requirements. As specified by the 1992 Land Withdrawal Act (P.L. 102-579) passed by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the external regulatory authority for WIPP, using as a regulatory standard the rule 40 CFR 191.1 The performance assessment model formed the basis of the 1996 DOE application to the EPA to obtain a certificate of compliance with the 40 CFR 191 standard to open and operate WIPP. The EPA granted this certificate in 1998, and EPA oversight continues in periodic (i.e., every five years) 1   For compliance with the standard of 40 CFR 191, the EPA issued rule 40 CFR 194 in 1996 to provide a regulatory interpretation of how these requirements would apply to WIPP.

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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT recertifications. Changing some of the repository features (e.g., the design of the engineered seals to close underground rooms once they are filled with waste or the design of the seals to close the vertical shafts to the surface) would require regulatory approval because of their importance to the model of long-term performance. DOE Management of TRU Waste Transuranic (TRU) wastes are stored and managed at several DOE sites nationwide. To dispose of these wastes at WIPP, they must be retrieved from storage, characterized, repackaged (if necessary), and transported to WIPP, where they are unloaded from shipping containers and sent underground for emplacement in the disposal rooms. These activities are conducted under the auspices of the National TRU Program administered by the DOE Carlsbad Area Office. DOE sites sending waste to WIPP must meet the waste characterization and transportation specifications that are contained in the WIPP waste acceptance criteria. The specifications on characterization and transportation operations are designed to meet all applicable regulations that have been promulgated by the EPA (chiefly through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The waste characterization activities and the transportation system are described in more detail below. Waste Characterization Activities The characterization program described here has been developed for contact-handled2 TRU waste and applied to date on non-mixed waste.3 The methods, equipment, procedures, determination of uncertainty, and other protocols used at DOE sites to perform these characterizations are approved by both the DOE Carlsbad Area Office and the EPA. The major procedures are as described in the following sections: Determination of the Origin and Composition of the Waste by Acceptable Knowledge. Acceptable knowledge of the origin and composition of the waste must be available in documentation to prove that the waste is of defense origin (by the terms of the Land Withdrawal Act, only defense-related TRU waste may legally be sent to WIPP) and to provide 2   Contact-handled waste is that for which the maximum radiation dose rate at the surface of the waste container is less than 200 mrem per hour. Essentially no shielding other than the waste container is needed. Much of the DOE TRU waste has radioactivity due primarily to alpha-emitting actinides. Because alpha particles are relatively easy to shield, such waste would have a low surface dose rate and therefore would be classified as contact-handled waste. 3   Mixed waste is waste with radioactive constituents regulated under the Atomic Energy Act mixed with hazardous chemical materials regulated under RCRA. Non-mixed radioactive waste is waste that can be shown not to contain RCRA-regulated materials.

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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT characterization information on the waste constituents. The DOE Carlsbad Area Office and EPA use the acceptable knowledge documentation to certify each “waste stream” (i.e., waste-generating process), and TRU waste sent to WIPP must come from a certified waste stream. Sampling and Analysis of Homogeneous Waste for RCRA Constituents. Most of the TRU waste is heterogeneous in nature and requires no further characterization beyond acceptable knowledge to satisfy the regulatory requirements of RCRA. For homogeneous waste, a fraction of the waste containers (e.g., 55-gallon drums or standard waste boxes) are cored to extract representative samples that are analyzed for constituents (e.g., volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, toxic metals, and other hazardous chemicals) regulated by RCRA. Both the acceptable knowledge procedure (for heterogeneous waste) and the sampling and analysis procedure (for homogeneous waste) were proposed by DOE for the terms of operation that would be specified in its RCRA Part B permit. These terms have been accepted by New Mexico, which has authority delegated by the EPA to regulate RCRA materials and mixed waste and which issued the RCRA Part B permit in October 1999. Real-Time Radiography. A real-time radiography procedure using x-rays is performed on all waste containers to look for items such as pressurized cans or free-standing liquids that are prohibited from being transported under DOT regulations. If any of these items are present in a waste container, its contents are repackaged, at which time the prohibited materials are removed. Another purpose of the radiography examination is to confirm the acceptable knowledge characterization information. Visual Examination. A visual examination is performed on a fraction of the waste containers, by spilling the waste contents into a glovebox, to verify the acceptable knowledge and real-time radiography information. The value of this fraction was proposed by DOE to be two percent of the initial population of containers of each waste stream, and if these evaluations resulted in few miscertifications, then the percentage of subsequent waste containers to undergo visual examination would be reduced. In October 1999, New Mexico in its RCRA Part B permit stipulated the initial fraction of containers to undergo visual examination to be 11 percent. Radioassay and Determination of Fissile Isotope Content. The number of curies of each transuranic isotope is determined by radioassay (e.g., gamma scans) to a specified precision and accuracy. The fissile isotope content is assessed using methods such as passive-active neutron systems. This information is used to ensure criticality safety, a USNRC requirement, which imposes a restriction on the amount (several hundred grams) of each fissile species per container. This restriction is less stringent than the amount derived from the gas generation model, discussed below. Headspace Gas Sampling. Headspace gas sampling is carried out on all waste containers for flammable gases (specifically, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen, and methane). This procedure has been proposed

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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT as a means of checking on conformity with the DOT regulations (e.g., 40 CFR 173 and 40 CFR 177) and USNRC regulations (e.g., 10 CFR 71) that address the transport of flammable and/or gas-generating substances with radioactive materials (Mewhinney, 1998b). These regulations include the following statements: 49 CFR 173.21(g): “Packages which give off a flammable gas or vapor, released from a material not otherwise subject to this subchapter, likely to create a flammable mixture with air in a transport vehicle” are forbidden. 49 CFR 173.21(h): “Packages containing materials which will detonate in a fire” are forbidden. 49 CFR 173.24(b)(3): “There will be no mixture of gases or vapors in the package which could, through any credible spontaneous increase of heat or pressure, significantly reduce the effectiveness of the packaging.” 49 CFR 177.848 specifies that flammable gases and radioactive materials “may not be loaded, transported, or stored together in the same transport vehicle or storage facility during the course of transportation unless separated in a manner that, in the event of leakage from packages under conditions normally incident to transportation, commingling of hazardous materials would not occur.” 10 CFR 71.43(d): “A package must be made of materials and construction that assure that there will be no significant chemical, galvanic, or other reaction among the packaging components, among package contents, or between the packaging components and the package contents, including possible reaction resulting from in leakage of water, to the maximum credible extent. Account must be taken of the behavior of materials under irradiation.” DOE has proposed the headspace gas sampling procedure in its application to the USNRC for a licensing certificate on the transportation package (named the TRansUranic PACkage Transporter, or TRUPACT-II) that is loaded with waste containers for transport by truck to WIPP. Repackaging of Waste to Meet Wattage Limits Imposed by a Radiolytic Gas Generation Model. Gas generation can occur during the transport of a waste container to WIPP. The radiolytic generation of hydrogen gas in TRU waste comes from the co-disposal of organic materials (containing hydrogen) with alpha-emitting radionuclides, which irradiate the organic matter to produce H+ ions that combine to form H2 molecules. The current gas generation model is based on assumptions about the configuration of organic materials and radionuclides. It relates the concentration of hydrogen gas in any headspace to the alpha activity (i.e., activity from alpha-emitting radionuclides) within each waste container. More than one gaseous headspace can exist in a waste container, primarily because TRU waste, when generated and disposed in DOE facilities, was contained within layers of confinement provided by plastic bags that may still be intact and thereby inhibit the flow of hydrogen.

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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT By placing a 5 percent (mole fraction) limit on the maximum H2 concentration within any headspace, this gas generation model calculates an upper limit, commonly expressed as a maximum thermal wattage, on the alpha activity allowed for the entire waste container. These wattage limits are a function of the waste materials and the number of layers of confinement provided by plastic bags. Because of its conservatism, the value of 5 percent H2 (as a mole fraction) in air as a “flammability limit” can be used in any USNRC license application for a transportation package without the need for further safety analysis. For example, for a 55-gallon drum containing a plastic liner and heterogeneous debris with plutonium inside three layers of sealed plastic bags, the wattage limit is approximately 0.028 W (DOE, 1996b, p. 5-6e), which corresponds to a limit of 14 g (0.89 Ci) of plutonium-239 or 0.049 g (0.84 Ci) of plutonium-238. Waste containers containing more wattage than the maximum value allowed by the model have their waste contents repackaged to distribute the TRU waste into configurations that will meet these wattage limits. This is accomplished by spilling these contents into shielded gloveboxes and dividing the waste into several new containers, each filled with a fraction of the contents of the original waste container. At Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1998-1999, gas generation restrictions resulted in the repackaging of 36 drums of plutonium-238 waste from the waste stream “TA-55-43 ” into approximately 120 drums that were placed inside standard waste boxes.4 The output of the characterization program is a set of characterization data for each waste container. If the characterization information is within acceptable limits as determined by the waste acceptance criteria and quality assurance program plan (or waste analysis plan) specifications, the waste container is certified and approved for shipment to WIPP. Truck Transportation to WIPP At the DOE sites containing TRU waste, the certified TRU waste containers are loaded inside TRUPACT-II shipping containers that are then sealed with a vacuum-tight seal. The TRUPACT-II is classified and regulated as a “Type B” package for fissile materials.5 To ensure that the waste contents are safely contained during normal shipment conditions and accident scenarios, this transportation package must meet design features such as double containment (i.e., it must have an inner and outer container) and a vacuum seal. Within the inner container, two standard waste boxes, fourteen 55-gallon drums, or one standard waste box and seven 55-gallon drums can be placed. These waste containers are loaded into the TRUPACT-II using an overhead crane in a bay of a building that a truck can drive into to avoid the need to unfasten the TRUPACT-II from the trailer. 4   A 55-gallon drum has a volume of approximately 0.2 m3, whereas a standard waste box is a 1.9m3 container that can hold three 55-gallon drums. 5   This designation is a regulatory term to designate packages used to transport plutonium isotopes, which are contained in TRU waste.

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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT The trucks travel to WIPP on approved highway routes during approved times and maintain communication with a DOE control center. In addition to a cellular telephone and a citizens band radio, each truck contains a satellite transponder that enables it to be tracked en route using DOE's satellite-based telecommunications system, the TRANSportation Tracking and COMmunication (TRANSCOM) System. The TRUPACT-IIs are inspected at the WIPP site and their contents (waste-filled drums or boxes) are unloaded and delivered to an underground elevator for emplacement into rooms excavated in the subsurface salt bed.