The U.S. Department of Energy might reclassify some treated liquid waste from the Savannah River Site, along with equipment used to process the waste, and send the materials to a permanent repository in New Mexico, according to a July 30 letter that accepts a recommendation from the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) for the South Carolina facility.
In the letter, SRS Manager Michael Budney told board Chairman Gil Allensworth that officials at department headquarters are considering revising DOE Order 435.1, which covers radioactive waste management.
Budney said the federal agency is looking into revising its definition of high-level radioactive waste — particularly radioactive material left by reactions that occur inside nuclear reactors. Doing so would give DOE the ability to reclassify the Savannah River material as transuranic waste, making it suitable for permanent storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M.
Transuranic waste is any material contaminated with radioactive elements during activities such as processing of spent reactor fuel or nuclear weapons production. Under federal law, WIPP is the designated repository for transuranic waste from the DOE complex.
Approved in January by the advisory board, the recommendation asks the Energy Department to reclassify an unspecified amount of waste and two retired melters that are stored at the site near Aiken, S.C. All told, SRS houses roughly 35 million gallons of radioactive high-level waste, a byproduct of Cold War nuclear weapons operations, in more than 40 aging underground tanks. The melters at the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) mix the waste with a material that removes contamination, then pour the mixture into canisters for interim storage on site.
The CAB did not specify how many canisters should be sent to WIPP, not did Budney’s letter. But he did tell Allensworth, “A more risk-based approach could potentially provide more cost-effective and timely alternatives to the current disposal path for the items in your recommendation. DOE-SR will provide updates to the CAB as significant developments occur.”