Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

September 12, 2013
Depleted uranium disposal decision another year off

EnergySolutions’ request to accept depleted uranium at its Clive facility is two years old and it looks like another year may pass before a decision is reached.

Rusty Lundberg, director of the Utah Division of Radiation Control, told members of the Utah Radiation Control Board  Tuesday that the division recently hired a consultant that will help the department review EnergySolutions’ request to accept depleted uranium at Clive.

That process will ultimately determine whether or not the company’s request, which was submitted in June 2011, is granted.

“We had other priorities to work on and then we had to maneuver our way through a new state process of bidding and selecting a consultant,” said Lundberg.

The detailed request from EnergySolutions is an analysis called a performance assessment, and it includes over 870 pages of written material along with a copy of the computer model developed for EnergySolutions by Neptune and Company, a Los Alamos, N.M.,-based environmental consulting company.

The process of reviewing the assessment is expected to take another year, and will conclude in Sept. 2014, which is 39 months after EnergySolutions submitted the report.

The radiation control board grappled with the depleted uranium issue for nearly a year before it adopted a rule in April 2010 that required a site-specific performance assessment, and approval by the director of the DRC, before accepting unanalyzed waste streams.

The rule specifically mentions depleted uranium, but was also crafted with other unanalyzed waste streams in mind. It was also invoked when EnergySolutions sought approval for accepting blended low-level Class A waste.

Depleted uranium is the by-product from the production of uranium for weapons and fuel.

In the process of enrichment, one isotope of uranium, U-235, is removed from natural occurring uranium and used for weapons or fuel, leaving behind uranium that is depleted of U-235, but it still contains other radioactive isotopes of uranium.

The problem with depleted uranium is that, unlike other forms of Class A waste received by Clive, it becomes more radioactive as it decays. It reaches its hottest point after a million years, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC has classified depleted uranium as Class A low-level radioactive waste, which EnergySolutions is licensed to accept at Clive. However, according to Lundberg, the NRC did not consider the disposal of large amounts of depleted uranium when it developed standards for land disposal of radioactive waste.

Meanwhile, 3,500 tons of depleted uranium, shipped to Clive from the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina, sits in temporary above-ground storage at Clive. The uranium is left over from the production of atomic weapons during the cold war era.

The depleted uranium at Clive was one of three train shipments slated for EnergySolutions from the federal clean up project.

Gov. Gary Herbert, in an 11th hour attempt with the first shipment en route, reached an agreement with DOE to stop the shipment of depleted uranium until the state had time to develop regulations for its disposal.

The agreement called for the train to be unloaded and the depleted uranium to be temporarily stored, but not buried or permanently stored.

That depleted uranium has sat for over three years at Clive, and now it will be one more year until the final resting place for the waste may be determined.

Tim Gillie

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim covers education, Tooele City government, business, real estate, politics and the state Legislature. He became a journalist after a long career as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Tim is a native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University.

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