Policy changed for waste hauled on Richland-area roads

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 12, 2014 

The Department of Energy is making changes to improve the safety of how it moves radioactive and hazardous chemical waste on 12 miles of public roadways at Hanford and in north Richland.

They include closing all lanes when waste shipments are moved from Hanford to Perma-Fix Northwest, a commercial waste treatment and packaging plant in Richland.

The Washington State Department of Ecology raised concerns last year after an inspection of Hanford's compliance with transportation regulations, including rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation and an agreement between the Western Governors Association and Department of Energy.

A study led by the Office of Packaging and Transportation was done in response to the state's concerns. It concluded that shipments to Perma-Fix were generally safe and secure.

But it made several recommendations to improve safety or better meet regulatory requirements, including closing lanes in both directions.

In the past, only the nearly one mile stretch to Perma-Fix Northwest along Battelle Boulevard was closed to traffic in both directions.

The rest of the way -- along Stevens Drive from the Battelle Boulevard intersection out Route 4 South to the Hanford Wye Barricade -- traffic was stopped only in the direction the waste was being hauled.

Waste is moved on a public road across Hanford and then for about 1.5 miles within city limits in an area that is mostly industrial.

It is used by Department of Energy contractors and other businesses focused on dealing with waste or hazardous materials, and there are no homes, schools, churches or retail businesses along the route, according the study.

The lane closures are not required on Route 4 South because the highway south of the security barricade is classified as a divided highway, but the study identified the change in procedures as an opportunity to improve safety.

The shipments of waste to Perma-Fix are accompanied by pilot cars and the Hanford Patrol drives in front and in back and shipments travel at 10 to 30 mph.

Other changes to procedures are required to comply with regulations.

The study found that more coordination was needed with the state of Washington, and the Department of Energy and the state have drafted a transportation plan.

It calls for advance notice of shipments and thorough safety inspections by the Washington State Patrol of the vehicles used to ship the waste before each shipment.

If any problem is found, such as a burned-out taillight, during the two-hour inspection, the shipment cannot be made.

Department of Energy also will update the state Transportation Safety Document annually, which was not being done.

In addition, Department of Energy has responded to a Department of Transportation determination that waste be hauled by federal drivers rather than contractor drivers, who are Teamsters who routinely haul radioactive and hazardous chemical waste across the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Department of Energy has arranged for a Bonneville Power Administration driver who lives near Hanford to fill in, said Stacy Charboneau, the energy department's Richland Operations Office assistant manager for safety and environment. But the federal driver will be accompanied by a Teamster familiar with Hanford waste procedures.

The changes made by the Department of Energy have addressed the state's concerns, said John Price, with the state Department of Ecology.

The Department of Energy has been hauling waste to Perma-Fix for about two decades without an accident or incident on the roads, according to the agency.

Only 10 to 12 shipments a year to and from Perma-Fix are planned now, but the number of shipments was higher when Hanford was spending American Recovery Act money.

The waste often is sent to Perma-Fix to be cut down to a size that will fit in shipping packages designed to haul waste from Hanford to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, a national repository for transuranic waste.

Hanford debris contaminated with plutonium is sent to the repository, although no shipments have been planned in the next year under a schedule set before a radiation leak Feb. 14 at the repository.

When the waste is in approved shipping packages, it no longer needs the special handling, such as closed roads and slow speeds.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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