At Hanford, Experts and Community Members Weigh In on Nuclear Waste Disposal

Feb. 21, 2020

At Hanford, Authorities and Community Members Weigh In on Nuclear Waste Disposal

In 1943, the town of Hanford in Washington Point out was chosen by the Manhattan Venture to be dwelling to the very first comprehensive-scale plutonium generation reactor in the world. About its up coming many years on the banking companies of the Columbia River, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation would develop the plutonium applied in the very first atomic bombs, and grow to include nine reactors, gasoline reprocessing crops, and a main nationwide laboratory.

Currently, Hanford is the nation’s most advanced nuclear cleanup challenge, with numerous resources of environmental contamination. fifty six million gallons of highly radioactive and harmful chemical squander are stored in 177 tanks on the reservation. Although ideas have been laid for disposing of the site’s higher-action waste—which incorporates about 60% of the site’s radioactivity—the ideas for minimal-action squander at Hanford are significantly less total. Lower-action squander signifies significantly less than 10 percent of the full radioactivity, but by quantity it would make up additional than ninety percent of the squander at Hanford.

A squander treatment plant to vitrify some of the minimal-action squander is underneath building, but federal and condition officers tasked with determining the up coming actions for the site are also examining supplemental systems for dealing with and disposing of the remaining supplemental minimal action waste—also named SLAW—at Hanford. 

Options for Hanford Waste Disposal

In 2017, Congress directed the U.S. Division of Strength (DOE) to fee a Federally Funded Investigate and Advancement Heart (FFRDC) to evaluate potential systems for dealing with and disposing of Hanford’s SLAW. The FFRDC’s examination is intended to assistance decision makers evaluate and weigh their alternatives when choosing SLAW treatment know-how.

The FFRDC’s examination, formulated in stages, lays out the estimated expense, timing, rewards, and hazards of 5 alternatives for Hanford’s SLAW: vitrification and disposal at Hanford, grouting and disposal at Hanford, grouting and disposal out-of-condition, steam-reforming and disposal at Hanford, and steam reforming and disposal out-of-condition.

Vitrification is a normally applied process for dealing with higher-amount squander, blending radioactive material with glass-forming materials at higher temperatures, then cooling the molten combination into a stable glass squander variety. Grouting will involve mixing liquid squander with cement-like materials to variety a grout that solidifies in a squander container. Steam-reforming strategies heat squander with clay materials at higher temperatures, which converts the stable residue into a granular material related to powdered detergent. That material is then produced into a long lasting squander variety. The intent of all 3 systems is to isolate the radioactivity in a stable variety and avert it from leaching into the environment.

The FFRDC examination also explores the place SLAW could be disposed of right after treatment. In accordance to the examination, SLAW could both be stored in the Built-in Disposal Facility on the Hanford site, or transported out-of-condition and stored at the Waste Control Professionals facility around Andrews, Texas.

National Academies Collects Community Comments

The National Academies was tasked in 2017 with examining the FFRDC’s get the job done by Congress. In a sequence of 4 reviews, the National Academies supplied suggestions for strengthening the FFRDC’s examination, which includes that it be revised or followed by a additional comprehensive examination to provide a additional sizeable foundation for decision-creating. Congress also directed the National Academies to obtain community reviews regarding its 3rd review report from regional Hanford communities and other stakeholders, and include people community reviews in its fourth and final report.

Posted this 7 days, the fourth National Academies review claims that commenters expressed popular curiosity in the potential for out-of-condition disposal of Hanford squander. Associates of tribal nations commented that decision-makers need to have to think about the whole ecosystem at Hanford and the potential for main climatic adjustments, enormous flooding, and seismic action, which may possibly adversely have an affect on squander disposal at Hanford.

Quite a few commenters expressed problem about how very long-long lasting radioactive substances these types of as iodine-129 and technetium-ninety nine would be treated, specified concerns for their potential hazard to consuming drinking water and the river method, in particular the close by Columbia River. Many others commented that they think vitrification would provide additional protection for squander disposed at Hanford than the other alternatives presented by the FFRDC.

Up coming Ways for Hanford

Although neither the FFRDC nor the National Academies ended up tasked with recommending or determining how supplemental minimal-action squander will be treated or disposed of, federal and condition officers can attract on their insights as the up coming actions for Hanford are made a decision.

“Every factor of the Hanford cleanup site happens on a huge scale. The quantity of the material, the dimensions of the site, the know-how we need to have to use, the time and expense involved—every factor examined by the FFRDC’s examination, and by our review of their get the job done, has main outcomes for the site, its personnel, the regional communities, and the close by environment,” mentioned John Applegate, government vice president for College Educational Affairs of Indiana College and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

He included, “The FFRDC’s report, our committee’s review, and our observations on reviews from the Hanford community provide decision makers with quite a few alternatives to decide on from.”

Read the National Academies 4-report sequence examining the FFRDC’s examination here.