New deadlines have been proposed for dealing with Hanford waste that may be shipped to a national waste repository in New Mexico that is currently shut down.
The Department of Energy asked the state of Washington to allow it more flexibility in meeting deadlines because of the shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The plant stated in a news release Friday that the original resumption date of March 2016 is no longer viable. DOE said it “anticipates having a revised cost and schedule plan this fall.”
The state agreed that revising the deadlines made sense, but asked that two conditions be met, said John Price, the Tri-Party Agreement section manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. The Tri-Party Agreement sets legally binding deadlines agreed to by DOE and its regulators, the state of Washington and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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A public meeting is planned Aug. 11 in Richland to hear comments on the proposed changes.
The state required that the end date for shipment of waste to the New Mexico remain in 2030. It heard public concerns the last time deadlines were revised that the date of completion stand firm, Price said.
The state also required more annual deadlines to track the progress of work to make sure DOE is on track to meet the 2030 date, he said.
Some Hanford waste, including drums and boxes of debris contaminated with plutonium, is planned to be sent to the repository in New Mexico. However, the repository has been shut down since February 2014, when a truck caught fire underground and then, in an unrelated event, a drum of waste burst and spread contamination.
The repository is used for transuranic waste — waste contaminated with artificially made radioactive elements such as plutonium — from defense nuclear production at sites across the nation.
Hanford has sent some waste there, but the national schedule for disposal has the remaining Hanford waste planned to be shipped there after waste from other sites.
Hanford has 20,000 containers of waste waiting to be treated and disposed of either at Hanford or New Mexico, depending on what surveys determine they contain.
About 8,000 containers are stored at Hanford’s Central Waste Complex, with some of them deteriorating, the state says. The remaining containers, about 12,000, are temporarily buried at Hanford and degrading below ground.
Tri-Party Agreement deadlines for waste temporarily buried in central Hanford since 1970 were revised in 2010. Some of the deadlines set then were target deadlines rather than enforceable deadlines, with some of those missed since 2012.
Now there is concern that enforceable deadlines from the 2010 revisions may be missed.
The changes being proposed now focus on treating and repackaging waste that is in above ground storage.
New annual requirements for repackaging waste would be added. Deadlines for retrieving buried waste would be replaced with a requirement that a new retrieval schedule be set in 2020.
The changes reorganize the deadlines for “just-in-time” processing of buried waste. Waste that is eventually dug up would be prepared and shipped to New Mexico promptly, rather than leaving it stored for years.
The proposed changes would give an extra two years to set schedules for when waste must be shipped offsite, although shipments still must be completed in 2030.
The buried waste is in 55-gallon drums, different sizes of boxes and caissons, which are large underground containers that waste was dropped into.
Some of the boxes of waste are oversized and some waste is so radioactive that containers must be handled with remotely operated equipment.
Now the Tri-Party Agreement sets deadlines for designing and acquiring a facility to deal with those difficult wastes.
The proposed new deadlines would take a step back, requiring DOE to study options for that waste, including new onsite capabilities or commercial capabilities, by 2018.
DOE said in a statement that it welcomes input on the proposed changes.
Comments can be made at a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Richland library. They also may be emailed to Kristen.Skopeck@rl.doe.gov. Deadline for comments is Aug. 21.