Weapons Complex Monitor Vol. 35 No. 27
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July 03, 2024

Ecology posts demo permit for 2,000-gallon test bed, challenge possible

By Wayne Barber

The Washington state Department of Ecology in June formally signed off on a Department of Energy plan to solidify into a concrete-like grout up to 2,000 gallons of low-level liquid radioactive waste from the Hanford Site.

Filtering of cesium and other radionuclides, what DOE calls pretreatment, will happen onsite at the former plutonium production complex, grouting and final disposal will occur out of state, according to documents posted online.

Ecology gave its blessing to the Test Bed Initiative Demonstration Project in a June 18 letter to DOE’s Hanford Site manager Brian Vance and Wesley Bryan, president of Washington River Protection Solutions, the Amentum-led contractor in charge of Hanford’s underground tanks of liquid radioactive waste.

The final Dangerous Waste Research, Development and Demonstration Permit takes effect July 18, the state Ecology Department said in the letter. The permit will remain in effect through July 18, 2025.

DOE and Washington River Protection Solutions applied for the demonstration permit, designed to build upon an earlier three-gallon pilot test, on June 8, 2023, according to the letter.

Gerry Pollet, a member of the Washington state legislature, who is also executive director of the advocacy group, Heart of America Northwest, said via email Monday to Exchange Monitor he generally supports the demonstration project. But the group could challenge DOE waste shipment in liquid form rather than solidifying it “at the available commercial treatment plant adjacent to Hanford,” a reference to the Perma-Fix Environmental facility in Richland, Wash.

An Ecology spokesperson said July 3 it was DOE’s decision to ship pretreated waste in liquid form prior to solidification.

Under the demonstration permit, liquid waste cannot be shipped out of Hanford until cesium and suspended solids are removed from the waste using a pretreatment system installed in the underground tank that houses the waste, according to Ecology. 

Afterwards, the liquid waste will be placed into a half-dozen shipping containers, known as process totes, approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

“Sampling will be conducted to confirm compliance with applicable shipping requirements prior to being shipped off site for grouting and disposal,” Ecology said in its public response to comments. 

“Ecology is committed to consider any comments on a proposed large-scale grouting and off-site disposal process beyond the current proposal in the appropriate time in the future,” the state said in response to public comments.

“We believe that grouting Hanford’s supplemental low-activity tank waste has the potential to significantly expedite cleanup and reduce long-term costs, so we have strongly encouraged the Tri-Party agencies to move forward with this demonstration,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs with the Hanford area’s Tri-City Economic Development Council, in a Tuesday email.

Although not mentioned in the permit, EnergySolutions in Utah and Waste Control Specialists in West Texas, have been frequently discussed by DOE as final disposal sites for grouted waste from Hanford.

The 48-page permit can be found here and the 28-page permit conditions here

Ecology accepted comments on the test-bed initiative between March 11 and April 25. A total of 68 written comments were submitted by dozens of citizens and a handful of organizations: Columbia Riverkeeper, Hanford Challenge, Hanford Communities; Heart of America Northwest and the Oregon Department of Energy.

Editor’s note: On July 4, paragraphs six and seven were modified to reflect it was DOE”s decision to ship the 2,000 gallons of pretreated waste in liquid form. 

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