Oak Ridge ships first TRU waste since 2012

15 August 2017

The US Department of Energy's (DOE) Transuranic Waste Processing Center, at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, has sent its first shipment of processed and treated transuranic waste since 2012 for permanent disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico.

Transuranic Waste Processing Center employees celebrate the first shipment from Oak Ridge to WIPP since 2012 (Image: DOE)

Transuranic, or TRU, waste consists of materials and debris contaminated with elements that have a higher atomic mass than uranium. The majority of Oak Ridge's inventory of TRU waste originated from previous research and isotope production missions at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Much of the waste had originally been scheduled for shipment to WIPP in 2014, but in February that year WIPP operations were suspended following an underground truck fire and an unrelated radiological event. The New Mexico facility - the USA's only repository for the disposal of TRU wastes from military programs - resumed operations in January following the implementation of a stepwise recovery plan estimated to cost $242 million up to the restart of operations, not including the cost of new permanent ventilation and a new exhaust shaft.

WIPP resumed operations with the emplacement of waste that had been stored at an on-site facility. It received a shipment - from the DOE's Idaho site - in April, and was expected to receive some 128 shipments in total from Idaho, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Savannah River Waste Control Specialists by January 2018. The facility is now receiving around four shipments per week.

Jay Mullis, acting manager of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, said the resumption of shipments had been an important priority due to the large inventory of processed waste stored in facilities at the Tennessee site. "These shipments will remove risk from our site and help fulfill our commitments to the state of Tennessee," Mullis said.

With operations at WIPP ramping up, Oak Ridge anticipates making multiple shipments each month. The exact allocation and sequence for shipping depends on the emplacement rate at WIPP, operational needs at the WIPP and sites, and logistical issues, such as weather, that affect shipping.

The Transuranic Waste Processing Center, operated by North Wind Solutions under contract to the DOE's Oak Ridge Office, is a regional centre for the management, treatment, packaging and shipment of its TRU waste legacy inventory. The centre is also responsible for managing and treating low level and mixed low level radioactive waste generated at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The WIPP repository, located about 26 miles (42 km) from Carlsbad in south-east New Mexico, was constructed in the 1980s and has received over 11,900 shipments of TRU wastes since it began operations in 1999. The waste is emplaced in 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in rooms mined from a 2000-foot-thick salt bed.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Waste management, USA