Morning Briefing - February 11, 2019
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February 11, 2019

Packaging, Transport Concerns Undercut Biz Case for AMWTP

By ExchangeMonitor

The need to develop and win regulatory approval for new “oversized boxes” to move radioactive waste to the Idaho National Laboratory was central to the Energy Department’s decision against keeping the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) open past this year.

After considering sustaining operations at the facility open after it finishes its mission to process 65,000 cubic meters of on-site legacy waste at the national lab, the Energy Department said in December there was not a strong business case to keep AMWTP operating beyond 2019. The department had looked at using AMWTP to compact waste from other sites before it goes to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

But that is currently note allowed for much of the out-of-state waste that would go to the Idaho facility, according to a Jan. 23 presentation to Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission from DOE National Transuranic Waste Program Director Betsy Forinash.

The WIPP Land Withdrawal Act requires shipments to the DOE disposal facility near Carlsbad, N.M., be made in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved “Type-B” package. The Western Governors’ Association also wants TRU waste moving through its states in this type of container. The Oregon Department of Energy has said it would “strongly oppose” shipments in non-NRC packaging.

But 576 of the expected 822 shipments in an extended operation scenario for AMWTP cannot utilize the NRC-approved Type B package because they contain either prohibited material or simply will not fit inside.

It would take two-to-five years to develop necessary alternate packaging, according to the presentation. It was not clear in the slides if this estimate includes time to win approval from the NRC. The cost of keeping AMWTP in “standby” while this is happening would be $3.5 million annually.

The presentation also said other “reasonable” treatment paths can be developed for DOE-generated waste, although it did not specify them.