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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY SOLICITS PUBLIC INPUT TO INFORM DEVELOPMENT OF A PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE FOR DISPOSAL OF GREATER-THAN-CLASS C WASTE

March 1, 2011 - 12:00pm

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During the months of April and May, 2011 the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management will be holding nine public hearings on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Disposal of Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) Low-Level Radioactive Waste and GTCC-Like Waste. Hearings will be held at the each of the sites being considered for disposal of GTCC wastes and in Washington, DC.

DOE does not have a preferred alternative at this time. These hearings will provide the public an opportunity to present their comments, suggestions, and concerns regarding the content of the Draft EIS and the Department’s path forward for selecting a disposal alternative. The Draft EIS identifies key factors that DOE plans to consider in developing a preferred alternative for inclusion in the Final EIS.

These factors include waste type characteristics, disposal method, and disposal location. Public input on these and others factors that should be considered is solicited.

WASTE TYPE CHARACTERISTICS

The three types of GTCC waste (activated metals, sealed sources, and Other Waste) come from different sources and have different physical, chemical, and radiological characteristics. In addition, some waste types differ in terms of their availability for disposal at specific times. Thus, it might be appropriate to use different disposal methods for different waste types. Key factors related to the three GTCC waste types that might determine whether one disposal method would be more appropriate than another include the following:

Radionuclide inventory. Some of these radionuclides have relatively short half-lives (such as Sr‑90 and Cs‑137), whereas others, such as Pu‑239, have half-lives of more than 10,000 years. Both the total inventory and mix of radionuclides are important to consider when selecting an appropriate disposal method for a particular waste stream.

Waste form stability. While all of the GTCC wastes are solids, some are much more durable than others. It is assumed that activated metal wastes would retain their integrity for long periods, while the Other Waste would be stabilized in a grout matrix to ensure the integrity of its waste form. Sealed sources are also very robust and are expected to retain their form for long periods. Waste form stability influences the longevity of a disposal facility, with forms that could degrade more quickly being a long-term concern.

Size. Some GTCC activated metal wastes are large metallic items that can be disposed of more readily in a near-surface trench or vault than in a borehole or geologic repository (e.g.WIPP). Use of boreholes or a geologic repository might require more treatment (segmentation) of waste than use of trenches or vaults. The need for treatment could result in greater worker doses.

Availability for disposal. While some GTCC wastes are currently in storage and available for disposal, many GTCC wastes will not be generated for several decades. The activated metal wastes are mainly associated with commercial nuclear power plants, and most of them are expected to operate for 20 years or more. Excess or unwanted sealed sources represent a national security concern, so their disposal is a high priority.

DISPOSAL METHODS CONSIDERATIONS

Key factors to consider in identifying a preferred disposal method for GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste include (1) protecting the inadvertent human intruder, (2) leveraging operational experience, (3) minimizing institutional controls, and (4) achieving cost-effective disposal. An inadvertent intruder is a person who might occupy the disposal site after closure and engage in normal activities, such as agricultural activities or the construction of buildings, or other pursuits in which the person might be unknowingly exposed to radiation from the waste.

DISPOSAL LOCATION CONSIDERATIONS

The GTCC DEIS evaluates seven federal locations for the potential disposal of GTCC waste, of which one is in a humid environment (Savannah River Site) and six are in semi-arid or arid environments (Hanford, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site (Formerly the Nevada Test Site),  Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) and WIPP Vicinity). In addition, the Draft EIS evaluates a generic commercial alternative in four regions of the United States. On the basis of the results presented in this Draft EIS, key factors to be considered in identifying a preferred disposal location for GTCC LLRW are potential human health risks for the post-closure long-term phase; cultural resources and tribal concerns; and existing laws, regulations, and agreements.

Human health impacts include the (1) potential exposure of workers and the general public to radiation during routine conditions and accidents and (2) direct impacts on workers and the public from industrial and transportation accidents.

Cultural resources include, among other things, definitive locations of traditional cultural or religious importance to specified social or cultural groups, such as Native American Tribal Nations (“traditional cultural properties”). DOE has begun consultations with participating tribes who have cultural or historical ties to DOE sites being analyzed in this DEIS. Tribal perspectives, comments, and concerns (e.g., environmental justice issues) identified during the consultation process will be considered by DOE in selecting and implementing a disposal alternative(s) for GTCC waste.

A number of existing laws, regulations, and agreements apply to the disposal alternatives considered in this Draft EIS. Examples include:

  • Hanford Site. Under a proposed settlement agreement with the State of Washington, DOE agreed to defer the importation of off-site DOE LLRW and mixed LLRW to Hanford until, at the earliest, the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) at that site is operational. Consistent with DOE’s preference regarding receipt at Hanford of off-site LLRW and mixed LRLW DOE would not ship Greater- Than-Class-C (GTCC) LLRW to Hanford at least until the WTP is operational.
  • WIPP. The WIPP LWA (P.L. 102‑579) limits the use of WIPP to the disposal of TRU waste generated by atomic defense activities. In addition, P.L. 102‑579 established certain limits on the surface dose rate, total volume, total radioactivity (curies), and maximum activity level (curies per liter averaged over the volume of the canister) for waste received at WIPP.
  • WIPP Vicinity. Two locations in the WIPP Vicinity are considered for the disposal of GTCC waste: (1) property inside the WIPP LWA boundary and (2) property on BLM-administered land outside and adjacent to the WIPP LWA boundary. Siting a facility for GTCC waste inside the WIPP LWA boundary would be subject to the limits of the WIPP LWA therefore, federal legislation to develop such facilities would be required. Siting a facility on BLM-administered land outside the WIPP LWA boundary would require a land withdrawal in accordance with Department of Interior (DOI) regulations.

The public comment period closes on June 27, 2011. Comments will be taken at the public hearings as well as can be provided in writing.

The Draft EIS is available at http://www.gtcceis.anl.gov and on the DOE NEPA website at http://nepa.energy.gov/1653.htm.

Written comments on the Draft GTCC EIS may be submitted by U.S. mail to the following address.

Mr. Arnold M. Edelman
EIS Document Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
Greater Than-Class C (GTCC) DEIS
Cloverleaf Building, EM-43
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20874

Or via the GTCC EIS website:
http://www.gtcceis.anl.gov

 

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