The Energy Department withdrew its state permit application for the Hanford Site Test Bed Initiative last week after the Washington state Department of Ecology sought federal-state negotiations over tank waste remediation.
In a May 29 letter, Ecology Director Maia Bellon told Anne Marie White, the departing DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, that it was time for the state and federal agencies to have a “frank discussion” about tank waste at Hanford. White is resigning from the department effective this Friday.
Decades of chemically reprocessing irradiated fuel to remove plutonium for nuclear weapons left Hanford with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks. The Test Bed Initiative would provide an alternate means for treating some of Hanford’s low-activity waste by turning it into a grout-like substance. In January, DOE submitted its initial permit application to add new activities to its existing permit for Hanford’s double-shell waste tanks.
Last Wednesday, the Energy Department verbally informed the Ecology Department, followed by a letter on Thursday, that it was withdrawing its application pending six-to-nine months of talks toward a “holistic and realistic” approach to Hanford tank waste. The letter was signed by Ben Harp, deputy manager for DOE’s Office of River Protection at Hanford.
Under a $4.8 million Energy Department contract issued earlier this year, the Aerostar Perma-Fix TRU Services joint venture was retained for the second phase of the test bed project. The second phase includes extracting up to 2,000 gallons of waste from Hanford tanks and converting the waste into a solid form at the nearby Perma-Fix Northwest plant. Once in a solid form, the material could be shipped to the Waste Control Specialists low-level waste disposal facility in Texas.
The first phase, finished in December 2017, featured 3 gallons of Hanford tank waste.
Removal of cesium from tank waste before moving the material to Perma-Fix is not covered by the current permit. The state agency in March denied a test bed permit, suggesting DOE instead pursue a research, development, and demonstration permit application.