Hanford not picked for medical radioactive waste disposal

Hanford was not picked as a recommended site for the disposal of certain kinds of radioactive medical and nuclear reactor waste in a Department of Energy environmental study released Thursday.

Hanford was one of the sites considered in the study, an environmental impact statement, but the study recommended that the waste be disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico or in possible, unspecified commercial facilities.

A draft study released in 2011 did not name a preferred alternative. But even then, it appeared that Hanford had a good chance of not being picked, and that became more certain in 2013.

DOE said in 2011 it would prefer not to bring the waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is at full operation. Then the plant was expected to be fully operating in 2022. Now DOE has proposed that the plant start partial operation in 2022 and not be fully operating until 2039.

The nation needs a place to dispose of certain concentrated radioactive materials used by hospitals to prevent their use in dirty bombs.

In 2013, DOE formalized its commitment not to dispose of most waste from other sites at Hanford for the time being. An environmental study showed that disposal at Hanford of additional DOE waste from other sites would increase the risk to groundwater, according to the state of Washington.

DOE had considered federal sites in New Mexico, Hanford, Idaho, Nevada and South Carolina in its “Environmental Impact Statement for the Disposal of Greater-Than-Class C Low Level Radioactive Waste and GTCC-Like Waste.” Options considered at Hanford included boreholes, trenches or above-ground vaults.

DOE has been looking for a place to dispose of at least 190,000 cubic feet of radioactive medical and other waste now being stored, plus as much as 230,000 cubic feet of waste expected to be generated in the 60 years after the study began. The waste could cover a football field about seven feet deep.

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. Some of the radionuclides in the waste have half lives of more than 10,000 years — the time it would require half of their radioactivity to decay.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews