US legacy cleanup programme looks to next decade

09 March 2022

The US Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) has released its updated blueprint for the next ten years of the programme to clean up US legacy nuclear sites. Fifteen sites remain on EM's list of active clean-up sites: Brookhaven National Laboratory has been removed from the list after the completion of work there.

Ike White pictured at the WM Symposia event on 7 March (Image: EM)

EM's Strategic Vision 2022-2032 updates previous editions of the blueprint, and was developed with feedback from regulators, tribal nations, local communities and other partners.

"The Strategic Vision sets EM on a course that will span a decade and keeps us focused on achieving EM's vital nuclear cleanup mission safely, effectively and at a practical cost to the American taxpayers," EM Senior Advisor Ike White said.

Priorities for the next ten years include: the start of radioactive tank waste treatment at the Hanford site in Washington state; emptying and closing 22 of 51 underground waste tanks at Savannah River in South Carolina; completing the new Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, a new utility shaft and other key infrastructure upgrades at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico; completing disposal of uranium-233 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and demolishing all former uranium enrichment process buildings at the Portsmouth site in Ohio.

EM is focused on "clearing the decks" and tackling major remaining hurdles to sustained success, White told the 2022 Waste Management Symposia on 7 March. He identified several remaining hurdles for the programme to overcome. These include: developing a "realistic, achievable approach" to address high-level tank waste at Hanford; ramping up EM's tank-waste mission and managing long-term risks to the community; defining the path forward for key sites such as Savannah River so they remain integral to DOE's national security and scientific research missions for decades to come; and strengthening - and in some cases rebuilding - relationships with regulators and stakeholders to gain alignment to enable collective future progress.

Redrawing the map

At the same conference, EM Chief of Staff Mike Nartker revealed an updated map of the EM complex showing one less cleanup site: Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York, where clean-up work has now been declared complete following the demolition last year of the 320-foot (98-metre) tall exhaust stack of the former High Flux Beam Reactor. The small research reactor, which provided a source of neutrons for multidisciplinary scientific research in materials science, chemistry, biology and physics, was permanently shut down in 1999 after more than 30 years in service.

EM crews used the MANTIS remotely operated demolition system to demolish the exhaust stack (Image: EM)
"The HFBR stack demolition and safe cleanup at Brookhaven is a pivotal accomplishment for EM," White said. "This milestone is one more example of steady and sustainable success in EM's mission of safe cleanups across the country."

Completion of work at Brookhaven means that EM has now completed remediation work at 92 sites since the office's inception in 1989. Responsibility for those sites has been transferred to the DOE Office of Legacy Management for long-term stewardship.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News