Proposed new legal deadlines for treating or shipping Hanford's transuranic waste could extend work past the date a national repository is projected to be open to accept the waste.
Proposed Tri-Party Agreement deadlines would allow the Department of Energy to continue treating or shipping transuranic wastes -- typically debris contaminated with plutonium -- through 2035. No previous deadline had been set for shipping the waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, the nation's repository for transuranic waste.
But current projections anticipate WIPP will stop accepting waste in late 2030 and work then would begin to close the repository.
The issue has come up in public comments on the proposed deadlines, and the Hanford Advisory Board has recommended to DOE and its regulators that the Tri-Party Agreement and WIPP deadlines be aligned. The board also has recommended requiring early shipment of available transuranic waste to minimize the risk of WIPP closing prior to completion of Hanford shipments.
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DOE is looking at its work plan to see if the shipments can be completed sooner than 2035, said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree. Hanford DOE officials are discussing dates with DOE headquarters, the state of Washington and WIPP, he said.
The state, which is the regulator on the project, believes the issue can be worked out.
The Department of Energy, which operates WIPP and Hanford, is motivated to ship transuranic waste off Hanford, and that's also what the state wants, said John Price, the state's Tri-Party Agreement section manager.
If DOE does not ship the Hanford waste, it instead will have to meet costly land disposal requirements to immobilize chemicals in the waste.
The proposed new deadlines give DOE several years to figure out what to do with its most difficult transuranic waste and set interim deadlines to make sure progress is made, Price said.
The last waste proposed to be shipped would be the most difficult to handle transuranic waste. That includes transuranic waste that is in large packages rather than 55-gallon drums and remote-handled transuranic waste -- waste that is so radioactively hot workers cannot handle the drums directly.
The 2030 estimate for start of closure work at WIPP is based on projections of how much waste is expected to be shipped to New Mexico from DOE sites, which could vary over the next decade, according to DOE.
DOE annually evaluates how much transuranic waste it still has to ship to WIPP and compares it to the legal limitations for radioactivity and capacity at the repository.
DOE also pointed out the fiscal 2011 budget report to Congress indicated a potential for moving WIPP's closure date further out.
The 2035 date for treating or shipping the last of Hanford's transuranic waste is among a substantial proposed list of new or revised legal deadlines for Hanford's transuranic and low-level radioactive waste, both mixed with hazardous chemicals.
Proposed changes also would delay some deadlines on the waste from 2012 to 2016 to allow DOE to focus work first on environmental cleanup of Hanford along the Columbia River. The transuranic waste is in central Hanford.
When Congress ruled in 1970 that transuranic waste must be disposed of in a national repository, Hanford waste suspected of being transuranic temporarily was buried until the nation had a national repository. Now that waste is being dug up and shipped to WIPP if it is transuranic waste. It is disposed of at Hanford if it is low-level radioactive waste.
Public comment on the proposed changes to the Tri-Party Agreement will be accepted through June 30 at TPACH91@rl.gov or Paula Call, U.S. DOE, Richland Operations Office, P.O. Box 550, A7-75, Richland, 99352.
w Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org.