The Department of Energy will honor a moratorium on disposing of certain radioactive waste at Hanford until about 2022, said Arnold Edelman of DOE headquarters.
However, concerns were raised at a Hanford Advisory Board committee meeting because Hanford remains a disposal alternative for low-level radioactive waste classified as "greater than class C" in a draft environmental study.
DOE plans a public hearing Tuesday in Pasco to hear public comment before the final version of the environmental impact statement about how to dispose of the nation's greater-than-class-C waste is prepared.
The meeting will start with an open house from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. At 6:30, DOE will give a presentation, then open the meeting for comments about 7 p.m. It will be at the Red Lion Hotel, 2525 N. 20th Ave., Pasco. Another meeting is Thursday in Portland.
DOE is looking for a place to dispose of 190,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste being stored at sites elsewhere in the nation, plus 230,000 cubic feet of waste expected to be generated during the next 60 years. The waste would cover a football field about seven foot deep.
The waste would contain radioactivity of about 160 million curies. In comparison, the 53 million gallons of waste awaiting treatment in Hanford underground tanks have about 190 million curies.
Some of the radionuclides in the waste have half-lives of more than 10,000 years -- the time it would require for half of their radioactivity to decay.
The waste includes concentrated radioactive materials previously used for medical use, such as diagnosing and treating cancer. It also includes radioactive metals from decommissioned commercial nuclear power reactors.
The draft study did not pick a preferred alternative for disposal of the waste but considered sending the waste to Hanford, the Idaho National Laboratory, sites in New Mexico, Savannah River in South Carolina or the Nevada National Security Site, which formerly was the Nevada Test Site.
DOE also is considering sending the waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico, which takes only defense waste -- not medical or nuclear power waste -- that has plutonium and americium in large enough quantities to be classified as transuranic waste. The possibility of selecting a commercial site also is being considered.
DOE could make multiple decisions for the waste, such as deciding some should be disposed of in trenches and some in deeper boreholes, Edelman told a Hanford Advisory Board committee last week. Or waste from commercial nuclear power plants could be stored at the plants, he said.
The Washington State Department of Ecology had not sent its comments to DOE by the meeting, but "it is very clear DOE should just take Hanford off the table," said John Price of the Department of Ecology.
Another environmental study, the draft Hanford Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, found that current plans for disposal of waste already at Hanford would exceed environmental standards long term for some radioactive isotopes.
"It already showed unacceptable impacts," Price said. "This is a step in the wrong direction."
DOE said as early as 2009 that it would prefer not to bring the greater-than-class-C waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is at full operation, which is expected to be 2022. Other sites under consideration do not have that limitation.
The draft study on the waste to be discussed Tuesday assumes a start to disposal in 2019, but said the start date is uncertain.