A state board has denied EnergySolutions’ request for a rule exemption to allow its Clive facility to accept depleted uranium from dismantled military munitions.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Waste Management and Radiation Control Board voted to deny EnergySolutions’ application for an exemption from state regulations that require a performance assessment prior to the disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium during a meeting Thursday at the DEQ board room in Salt Lake City.
EnergySolutions applied for the rule exemption to allow it to receive depleted uranium from dismantled military munitions. If it had been approved, EnergySolutions’ anticipated it would accept up to 10,000 tons of depleted uranium metal over a four-year period from the U.S. Army.
About 40 percent of the depleted uranium munitions are already in Tooele County at Tooele Army Depot. The rest of the depleted uranium from munitions would have come from the Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Crane, Indiana.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of refining uranium ore. During refining process the most fissionable uranium isotopes are removed from the natural uranium ore. The uranium is used for fuel for nuclear reactors and for nuclear weapons.
The remaining ore is called depleted uranium. It has 58 percent of the specific radioactivity of natural uranium. Almost twice as dense as lead, depleted uranium is used by the military to make munitions designed to penetrate armour plate.
In 2010, the Utah Radiation Control Board adopted a rule that requires a performance assessment before a facility can accept more than one metric ton of concentrated depleted uranium.
Utah administrative code also allows for exemptions from the rule if the disposal of depleted uranium doesn’t result in an undue hazard to public health, safety and the environment.
During an Oct. 11 Waste Management and Radiation Control Board meeting, EnergySolutions argued that an exemption should be granted because the Clive facility had already undergone seven performance assessments that have determined the facility can safely accept and store Class A low-level radioactive waste, including depleted uranium.
Prior to the adoption of the one metric ton limit, Clive accepted and still safely holds 49,000 tons of depleted uranium, according to Tim Orton, an environmental engineer with EnergySolutions.
Staff from DEQ’s Division of Waste Management and Radiation control made a presentation to the board during Thursday’s meeting. In their presentation the staff expressed concern with the geochemically unstable nature of depleted uranium metal, its reactivity in a moist environment such as at Clive, and its ability to react to form explosive substances.
Consultants from SC&A, an environmental and energy consulting firm, shared their analysis of data provided by EnergySolutions. SC&A stated that the performance assessments cited by EnergySolutions were not site-specific for depleted uranium.
In a separate issue, The Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control is in the process of evaluating a performance assessment for depleted uranium in non-metallic uranium oxide form submitted by EnergySolutions in 2011.
A determination of that assessment is due in the spring of 2019.
“While disappointed by the Utah regulator’s recommendation today, EnergySolutions will continue to cooperate with the ongoing regulatory review of the performance assessment that was initially submitted to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality in 2011 and concurs with the Board’s request to expeditiously complete their review,” said Mark Walker, EnergySolutions vice president of marketing and communications.