Stricter requirements for nuclear waste containers shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad meant new X-ray technology was brought into a Department of Energy facility in South Carolina.
The Savannah River Site announced the technology was installed at its Solid Waste Management Facility to allow workers to characterize transuranic (TRU) waste ahead of shipment to WIPP.
TRU waste is made up of clothing materials and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities throughout the nation. It is buried at WIPP in a salt deposit about 2,000 feet beneath the surface where the salt gradually collapses to permanently entomb the waste.
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The equipment at Savannah River was installed to meet revised waste characterization requirements that called for chemical evaluations of the waste containers and documentation of any oxidizing chemicals.
Requirements were increased after an accidental radiological release occurred in 2014 in the WIPP underground due to an incorrectly packaged drum of waste sent from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico.
Using the X-ray equipment, workers will be able to ensure waste set for emplacement at WIPP aligns with submitted documentation, and that drums do not contain any items prohibited at WIPP without opening the containers.
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Records show eight of 210 shipments to WIPP came from Savannah River in 2021. No shipments have been sent from the site this year.
There were 10 shipments from the South Carolina facility in 2020.
In total, as of Feb. 12, 2022, records show 1,687 shipments were sent to WIPP from Savannah River Site since operations began in 1999 – the third most in the nation and about 13 percent of the total 13,045 WIPP shipments received during the repository’s lifetime.
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Idaho National Laboratory had the most at 6,629 shipments, followed by 2,045 shipments from the now-decommissioned Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site near Denver.
Savannah River site was followed by Los Alamos National Laboratory which sent 1,502 shipments to WIPP since it opened.
Waste shipments could increase from Savannah River using new X-ray
Kerri Crawford, solid waste programs manager for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the site’s primary operations contractor, said the X-ray equipment would ultimately lead to more waste being sent to WIPP from Savannah River.
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“Operation of this equipment, in conjunction with other TRU waste characterization equipment installed at the Solid Waste Management Facility last year, will allow new TRU waste generated from SRS operations to be certified to the new WIPP standards and ultimately shipped to WIPP,” Crawford said .
The radiography unit was previously used at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco and was refurbished before being put into use at Savannah River.
The work was part of the DOE’s National TRU Program to clean up transuranic waste from around the country using its Central Characterization Program which is managed by the DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office.
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After waste is characterized by, mobile loading units are provided by the TRU Program to sites like Savannah River Site to help load them into shipment casks, eliminating the need for such equipment to be permanently installed.
Other methods of characterization aside from X-ray include testing radiation levels, visual confirmation and analysis for flammable gas.
“Additional DOE and WIPP oversight is provided by waste generator site technical reviews, which examine work activities performed in preparing waste prior to entering the site’s certified program,” read a DOE report. “DOE established the Central Characterization Project (CCP) to standardize and provide efficiencies in the characterization and certification process at DOE waste generator sites.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.