The Hanford Advisory Board is siding with the state, telling the Department of Energy that it wants all of Hanford's radioactive tank waste glassified for disposal.
In April, DOE said it wants to look at alternate technologies for treating low-activity radioactive waste held in 169 underground tanks. The waste is left from the past production of weapons plutonium at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
"It's more money down a rat hole," said advisory board member Pam Larsen during a discussion at the board's meeting in Kennewick on Thursday and Friday. "That's not what we said but what is in our hearts."
After years of work, DOE is expected to release the final version of the Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement as soon as this month. It announced in April that it did not plan to pick a preferred alternative for treating all of the waste at the vitrification plant in the environmental review.
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"That's not the end to the eight-year EIS that anyone would like," said Suzanne Dahl, tank waste disposal project manager for the Washington state Department of Ecology, at the meeting.
The vitrification plant never was planned to be large enough to treat all the low-activity radioactive waste, once tank waste is separated into high-level and low-activity radioactive waste streams. The plant, as designed, may be able to treat only one-third of the low-activity waste, and 90 percent of the separated waste is expected to be low-activity waste.
In the environmental study, released earlier in draft form, DOE considered treating the additional low-activity waste with steam reforming, grouting or two different methods of vitrification. Vitrification could be done in bulk, which would glassify the waste in large blocks, or a second Low Activity Waste Facility could be built in the vitrification plant to turn it into smaller glass logs.
"The board advises DOE to discontinue efforts to utilize bulk vitrification, cast stone and steam reforming as alternatives to vitrification," the board said in a letter sent to DOE on Friday.
That would leave only the option of adding a second Low Activity Waste Facility at the vitrification plant.
The draft environmental study showed all the other methods would release unacceptable amounts of radioactive technetium 99 and other contaminants to the ground water beneath Hanford, the board said.
DOE did not choose a preferred alternative in its draft environmental report. Then it said in April it planned to continue to look at the alternate technologies in the report to see if -- as research advanced -- they would offer a less expensive or quicker way to treat waste.
However, an earlier cost analysis, the 2008 Kossen Report commissioned by DOE, concluded that alternate technologies would not be less expensive, the board said.
DOE spent at least $400 million to study bulk vitrification and steam reforming before concluding they were not technically and financially feasible, the board said. Tight federal budgets now will limit funding of additional studies, it said.
The board also cited federal regulations that it said strongly advise federal agencies to select preferred alternatives in studies, such as the environmental impact statement to be released this month.
Although the board does not support DOE spending more to research alternate treatments, it is interested in evaluating the production of a different type of glass to immobilize waste through vitrification at a second Low Activity Waste Facility.
Several board members long have advocated the use of iron phosphate rather than the borosilicate glass form planned to be produced at the vitrification plant. About 18 months ago, DOE finally looked at the possibility of using iron phosphate in a test in two research melters and found that it could be viable, said board member Richard Smith.
Advocates of the iron phosphate glass matrix say it would better deal with some problem waste constituents -- sulfate, aluminum and chromium -- and could save time and money.
The board also requested DOE hold public meetings and give the board and the public 90 days to review its final environmental report before DOE issues any decision.