Current Issues: Waste Management of Depleted Uranium: Storage and Disposal
(last updated 4 Jun 2013)
> see also:
On 2 July 2009, the Urenco Limited Board approved capital expenditure of EUR 360 million for the creation of a Tails Management Facility (TMF) at URENCO's Capenhurst site, north-west England, UK. Construction of the Facility will include a 7,000 tU per annum capacity (2 kiln) tails hex deconversion plant, a hex cylinder washing plant, a uranium oxide store and associated support facilities.
The construction programme will commence in the coming months, with completion target and online date scheduled for 2014.
(Urenco 13 July 2009)
> See also: British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited Capenhurst site
UK plans to commence deconversion of legacy depleted uranium hexafluoride inventory by 2020
In March 2010, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority issued its Storage Strategy for NDA Owned Uranium Hexafluoride Tails 2010:
"[...] Hex tails that are not planned to be either sold or returned to the fuel cycle would need to be deconverted. [...] Subject to NDA estate-wide funding and hazard reduction priorities, the present intent is to commence deconversion by 2020 and earlier if this is practicable. [...]"
> Download Storage Strategy for NDA Owned Uranium Hexafluoride Tails 2010 (31k PDF - NDA)
Depleted uranium hexafluoride leak from corroded legacy cylinder demonstrates urgency for tails disposition at Sellafield Ltd's Capenhurst site
"On 24th July , the licensee promptly notified NII of a seepage of a few litres of radioactive liquor from a corroded stored uranium hexafluoride legacy "Hex Tails" cylinder, held inside a storage building. The Site Emergency Control Centre was appropriately manned for several hours, whilst the leak was promptly brought under control and sealed by the 'on site' Fire & Rescue team. There was no escape of radioactivity from the building and no personnel were contaminated. The volume (about three litres) and specific radioactivity of the acidic liquor, which had leaked from the ageing "Hex Tails" cylinder in a small localised area, breached the level defined within the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999. [...]
This event has clearly significantly enhanced the need for timely "Hex Tails" disposition and NII will continue to press for the development and timely implementation of detailed plans for elimination of the "Hex Tails" hazard from the Sellafield Limited site at Capenhurst."
(Sellafield Limited Capenhurst Works, NII site inspector's quarterly report to the local stakeholder group for 1 July 2009 to 30 September 2009)
Nuclear Installations Inspectorate presses British Nuclear Group to deal with hazard from uranium hexafluoride tails stored at Capenhurst
"[...] NII continues to actively press the licensee to develop the options to bring forward the date for the commencement of processing or disposing of the legacy 'Hex Tails' uranic and other materials currently stored on site, taking account of wider developments. The licensee continues to provide the site inspector with visibility of the ongoing work to review acceleration options. NII was encouraged that the licensee was now actively engaged in reviewing the options to address the 'Hex Tails' legacy, with a view to reducing the potential hazard from this legacy material, earlier than currently programmed in the Lifetime Plan. Some interim acceleration milestones were incorporated within the 2007/08 Lifetime Plan. NII will continue to press for progress to be made by the licensee towards the timely reduction of this medium term site hazard."
(British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited Capenhurst Works, NII site inspector's quarterly report to the local stakeholder group for 1 January 2007 to 31 March 2007)
"[...] NII continues to actively press the licensee to develop the options to bring forward the date for the commencement of processing the legacy 'Hex Tails' uranic materials currently stored on site, taking account of wider developments. The licensee has agreed to present the outcome of the current review of acceleration options to NII and EA before the end of 2006. NII was encouraged that the licensee was now actively engaged in reviewing options to address the 'Hex Tails' legacy, with a view to reducing the potential hazard from this legacy material, earlier than currently programmed. NII will continue to press for progress to be made in the timely reduction of this medium term site hazard." (British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited Capenhurst Works, NII Site Inspector's Quarterly Report to the Local Stakeholder Group for 1 July 2006 to 30 September 2006)
BNFL installs windows at DU storage facility to enhance transparency...
"2.3 Long Term Storage of Uranium at Capenhurst
Progress continues to be made in the construction of stores in the ex Diffusion Plant Building. These stores are being provided with windows so that the stores and their contents can be viewed by the public."
(BRITISH NUCLEAR FUELS PLC, CAPENHURST WORKS, QUARTERLY REPORT FOR 1 APRIL 2001 TO 30 JUNE 2001)
Railcar with depleted U3O8 destined for the Netherlands derailed in France
> View here
Comment invited on planned extension of depleted uranium storage at COVRA radioactive waste facility
On Feb. 22, 2012, the Dutch Ministry of Economics (EL&I) announced the availability of an Environmental Impact Report for COVRA's project of a further storage building for depleted uranium in Vlissingen.
Comments have to be submitted by April 4, 2012.
> View EL&I announcement
Export statistics for depleted uranium from France to the Netherlands
These exports apparently comprise the material originating from Urenco's Almelo plant and sent back for disposal at COVRA's Vlissingen site, after deconversion from uranium hexafluoride to U3O8 at Areva's Usine W in Pierrelatte.
Source: Haut Comité pour la Transparence et l'Information sur la Sécurité Nucléaire , Nov. 2009
|Year||DU exports [t U]|
COVRA opens new uranium oxide storage halls for depleted uranium from Urenco's Almelo enrichment plant
"On the 2 July 2008, COVRA (the national storage facility for radioactive
materials in the Netherlands) opened two additional storage halls for storing
Urenco's depleted uranium at its facility in Vlissingen in the Netherlands.
Since the COVRA opened the depleted uranium building in 2004, its first
hall is now almost at full capacity. With the opening of these new halls,
availability of safe, long-term, retrievable storage of depleted uranium will
be ensured for years to come.
As part of Urenco's commitment to safety, it uses COVRA's facilities to store
depleted uranium from the enrichment process. Depleted UF6 is sent to
a facility in France, where it is converted to U3O8, a more stable form of
uranium and therefore suitable for long term storage. COVRA takes over this
material from Urenco, which is then shipped to Vlissingen in steel containers
each of which holds 10 metric tonnes of U3O8.
Each hall holds a maximum of 650 containers, which will provide safe,
reliable storage of the oxide for a further 100 to 150 years. Many years in
the future, a decision will be made by COVRA as to whether the material
can be reused or needs to be put into final storage."
(Urenco News Magazine Autumn 2008)
Dutch Ministry discloses details on Urenco Almelo's depleted uranium disposition at COVRA
On Nov. 27, 2007, the Dutch Ministry of Environment (VROM), in an answer to a parliamentary question, disclosed that approximately an annual amount of 3700 t, that is almost half of the depleted uranium generated at Urenco's Almelo enrichment plant, is sent to the Centrale Organisatie Voor Radioactief Afval (COVRA) radioactive waste facility, where it is stored.
> Download Beantwoording Kamervragen lid Poppe 2070802570 over transport van kernafval (MS Word, in Dutch)
No final disposal site required for depleted uranium oxide that is to be stored at Urenco's Gronau plant
In the answer to a parliamentary question, the German federal government stated that the depleted uranium oxide that is to be stored at Urenco's Gronau plant is a resource (rather than a waste), and that therefore there is no need for a final disposal site for the material.
(Bundestags-Drucksache 17/13598 , 21.05.2013)
Urenco's Gronau depleted uranium storage facility project licensed with no time limit
According to the answer of the German federal government to a parliamentary question, Urenco's depleted uranium storage facility in Gronau is licensed with no time limit.
(Bundestags-Drucksache 17/12943 , 27. März 2013)
Urenco's depleted uranium oxide storage building in Gronau to be completed by 2014; no air crash protection
The building projected for the storage of depleted uranium in oxide form at Urenco's Gronau enrichment plant is to be completed by 2014. Its capacity will be 50,000 t U, or approx. 60,000 t U3O8. According to the current plans, dating back to 2005, the building will not be designed to withstand an airplane crash.
(Westfälische Nachrichten May 25, 2011)
Urenco plans storage of depleted uranium as oxide
Together with the application to increase the enrichment capacity of its Gronau, Germany, enrichment plant to 4000 tonnes SWU/year (details here), Urenco has filed an application for the construction of two storage buildings for its depleted uranium waste. The depleted uranium is currently being stored as uranium hexafluoride in cylinder yards next to the plant with a licensed capacity of 38,000 tonnes of UF6. For storage, the depleted uranium is to be converted to the more stable form of U3O8 at the Pierrelatte facility in France. The buildings are to be designed for a capacity of 50,000 tonnes of uranium oxide. (Gronauer Nachrichten, April 30, 1999; Westfälische Nachrichten July 31, 1999)
> See also: 50,000 tonnes of depleted uranium oxide in use at Tricastin to shield radiation from 7,360 tonnes of stored reprocessed uranium oxide
> Aerial View (Google Maps)
No depleted uranium added to Bessines storage for one year
As of May 17, 2011, no depleted uranium has arrived at Bessines since May 17, 2010. The next shipment is expected for June 2011.
(DREAL July 6, 2011)
Areva ignores bookkeeping requirements on isotopic composition of depleted uranium stored at Bessines site
During an inspection held on Oct. 25, 2007, the inspecteur des installations classées found, among others, that Areva had failed to keep track of the isotopic composition of each container stored in the facility - a major violation of the applicable regulations. At the occasion of further inspections held on Oct. 6, 2008, and on June 17, 2009, the inspector found that Areva still had not adhered to the bookkeeping requirements. The inspector was particularly concerned about possible concentrations of the artificial isotope uranium-236 which might render the whole disposal scheme illegal.
Further criticism by the inspector concerned Areva's failure to conduct reliability tests ordered for the storage containers used, among others.
(DRIRE Limousin: Rapports d'inspection et de contrôle de la Haute-Vienne: Inspection Uranium appauvri (10/2008), Inspection Uranium appauvri (06/2009))
Depleted uranium storage at Bessines nearing capacity
The storage buildings at Bessines currently hold 165,000 t U of depleted uranium oxide, while the licensed capacity is [almost] 200,000 t U. The storage could therefore become full within short time, as it continues to receive depleted uranium on a regular basis.
(Le Populaire May 14, 2009)
7,700 t U of depleted uranium oxide taken out of Bessines storage for re-conversion
Between April 2008 and January 2009, 7,700 t U of depleted uranium oxide (U3O8) were transported from Bessines to Malvési for conversion back to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4).
> View details
Cracked container carried depleted uranium across France
On October 14, 2004, traces from an impact and a hole were detected in a container carrying depleted uranium in the form of U3O8 from Cogéma's conversion facility Usine W in Pierrelatte to the DU storage site in Bessines (Haute Vienne). The 28 mm-long fissure was detected on top of the container on arrival of the rail shipment in Bessines. It is assumed that the fissure occured during handling of the container at Pierrelatte. No traces of any release of radioactive material were detected.
> View ASN release Nov. 8, 2004 (in French)
The depleted uranium storage project at the former Bessines uranium mill site
The long history of disposal of any kinds of wastes on former
uranium mine and mill sites is being enriched by a new project:
France's nuclear fuel company COGEMA
is going to store 199,900 tonnes of depleted uranium (DU) at the
site of the former uranium mill of Bessines-sur-Gartempe (Haute
Vienne) near Limoges. The project was licensed on 20 December
This license was revoked by the Administrative Tribunal of Limoges on July 9, 1998. The license was revoked mainly for the reason that the DU has to be regarded as a waste under current conditions, though an extraction of the residual uranium-235 might be viable in the future.
On Nov. 5, 1998, a Bordeaux appeals court ruled that the material is no waste, but a "directly usable raw material that is effectively used for multiple uses". Following this court decision, COGEMA sent the first DU shipment to Bessines on Nov. 12, 1998.
On May 23, 2001, the Conseil d'Etat finally turned down the appeal of the environmental organization ADEPAL against the Bordeaux appeals court ruling. The Conseil d'Etat followed the appeals court's ruling that the material is not a waste. ADEPAL was sentenced to pay 20,000 Francs (US$ 2,600) in damages to COGEMA.
At the time of this ruling, five of eleven storage buildings have been completed and 32,600 tonnes of depleted uranium have already been stored. (Info Nucléaire May 31, 2001 )
Originally, COGEMA had applied for the storage of 265,000
tonnes, but during the hearings held on the project, it became
obvious that COGEMA had "forgotten" to consider some
radionuclides in its calculation of the total activity
inventory: The specific activity of the depleted uranium is
21,100 Bq/g instead of 15,902 Bq/g. The project would therefore
have exceeded the 100,000 Curie limit, requiring a different
type of license (Installation Nucléaire de Base)
involving wider public participation.
During a public enquiry, conducted between 18 Nov 1994 and 2 Jan
1995, 10,182 citizens and organizations had voted against the DU
disposal project at the Bessines site.
A review panel (commission d'enquête) that was installed
to conduct a public enquiry on the project and to produce a
recommendation on it, followed the main views of the opponents
and issued a recommendation against the proposed
project on 23 March 1995. The reasons for this vote were the
neglected existence of artificial uranium-236 in the enrichment
wastes and the thus too high total inventory of the deposit that
would have exceeded the 100,000 Curie limit, among others.
COGEMA was not able to provide a reasonable explanation for the
presence of the uranium-236.
The depleted uranium is a residue of the Eurodif Tricastin
gazeous diffusion enrichment plant in the Rhône valley.
Its residual contents of uranium-235 is 0.2 to 0.3 % and it has
the chemical form of uranium
hexafluoride (UF6). But, COGEMA doesn't declare
it a waste, but wants to store it for possible future use.
COGEMA hopes that the stored DU can be useful, if future
enrichment techniques would allow for economic extraction of the
residual uranium-235, or if uranium prices would rise
For storage, the UF6 is to be converted to the
chemically more stable form of U3O8 at
COGEMA's Pierrelatte facility. Then it is to be transported by
rail to the Bessines site and to be stored as a powder in iron
containers. The containers (8.5 or 11 tonnes each) are to be
stored in 11 special storage buildings of 3000 m2
each, according to the original plan. Each building can store
2500 containers. The maximum dose that an individual would be
exposed to at the fence of the facility, is calculated at 0.7
mSv (70 mrem) per year, far below the (extremely high) French
limit of 5 mSv (500 mrem) for the public.
The Bessines uranium mill has ceased operation in july 1993,
since the associated uranium deposits are worked out or cannot
be mined any more under the current uranium market conditions.
So the area now faces high unemployment of former miners, and
any kind of new business is welcome. Knowing this, COGEMA now
offers to build that DU disposal facility. The total investment
is planned at 60 million French Francs (approx. US$ 10 million)
over a period of 15 years.
The storage of DU at the Bessines site is only the first of a
series of proposals made by COGEMA: others are for the
treatment and storage of thorium-wastes from the Cadarache
facility, treatment of mercury-containing wastes, and storage of
natural uranium (yellow cake).
Fédération Limousine pour l'Étude et la
Protection de la Nature - FLEPNA
Maison de la Nature, 11, rue Jauvion, 87000 Limoges, France
Tel. +33-5-55-329558, Fax: +33-5-55-327746
former Installation nucléaire de base N°134 (Magasin d'uranium de Miramas)
Information about Miramas facility (Nuclear Safety Authority - ASN, in French)
On Oct. 2, 2007, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that the license for the Miramas uranium storage site has been retracted after the facility has been dismantled.
> see also Clive DU disposal
Utah permits DU storage rather than disposal at Clive disposal site
On Feb. 13, 2012, the Utah Water Quality Board issued an amended Ground Water Quality Discharge Permit to Energy Solutions LLC.
The permit allows for DU storage in a designated DU Storage Building with no time limit. DU storage is exclusively limited to Savannah River Site DU material.
> Download Ground Water Quality Discharge Permit No. UGW450005, Feb. 2012 (639k PDF - Utah DEQ)
Savannah River Site completes depleted uranium metal shipments to Utah disposal site
The Savannah River Site has completed the final shipments of depleted uranium metals from an old manufacturing area at the complex, clearing the way for demolition of six buildings.
The M area buildings were the facilities where "target" materials for the site's five reactors were manufactured (The reactors produced plutonium for nuclear weapons).
Between March and June 2003, more than 2,600 metric tons of depleted uranium metal were shipped from the Savannah River Site to the Envirocare of Utah disposal site.
Officials also plan to ship 3,270 drums of depleted uranium oxide to EnviroCare in summer 2003 as part of a pilot program. The remaining 33,000 drums would be shipped during the next few years.
(Augusta Chronicle June 10, 2003)
SRS uranium storage raises concern
A federal review board has questioned whether uranium is being stored safely at Savannah River Site.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board found that depleted uranium is being stored in corroded drums and in deteriorating buildings at the federal nuclear-weapons site.
In some cases, wooden pallets supporting stacked drums of uranium had rotted, and "significant numbers" of the drums had tilted, the board wrote.
The board also raised concerns that uranium was stored in wooden crates and cardboard boxes, increasing the risk of a fire that could affect public health beyond the boundaries of the 310-square-mile (803 km2) site.
The U.S. Department of Energy stores about 24,200 tons (21,954 tonnes) of depleted uranium at SRS.
According to the board, little progress has been made in addressing the potential safety issues which were first identified in October 1998.
(Augusta Chronicle March 21, 2002)
Mitsui Chemical Iwakuni-Ohtake plant on fire - depleted uranium stored on site
At 2:20 on April 22, 2012, the Iwakuni-Ohtake Petrochemical Complex of Mitsui Chemicals, Inc. catched fire after it was hit by lightning. One employee died and several residents in the area were injured.
The complex is still on fire, and 3379 casks of radioactive waste (200 litres per cask) and uranium for nuclear fuel are preserved on the site.
The prefectural government confirmed that depleted uranium is stocked at the site, but said it's not affected by the accident (the company is known to hold 71.1 t of depleted uranium - not necessarily all at this site).
The plant produces Hydroquinone at a capacity of 11,500 t per year, and a capacity increase by 1000 t per year was planned.
(Iori Mochizuki - Fukushima Diary , Yomiuri, Reuters, Mitsui Chemicals, Apr. 22, 2012)
U.S. NRC rulemaking for near-surface disposal of depleted uranium
NRC issues Regulatory Basis for Proposed Revisions to Low-Level Waste Disposal Requirements to include disposal of depleted uranium:
"In summary, the proposed rulemaking would solicit public comment on the following amendments to 10 CFR Part 61:
(2) Amend 10 CFR 61.42 to require Part 61 licensees to conduct an intruder assessment that considers the time period after the end of the period of active institutional controls.
- (a) Amend 10 CFR 61.41 to require 10 CFR Part 61 licensees to conduct a site-specific performance assessment for LLW disposal facilities to ensure that the facility can meet the dose requirements in this section. The analyses would be used to determine if a specific site is suitable for the disposal any LLW including DU and other waste streams containing large quantities of long-lived isotopes.
- (b) The analyses timeframes for site-specific performance assessment would consist of a two-tiered approach that establishes both a compliance period and a longer period of performance that is not a priori and is established to evaluate the performance of the site over longer timeframes.
- (c) In conducting any site-specific performance assessment, licensees should be allowed the flexibility to use the most recent recommendations of the ICRP.
(3) Amend 10 CFR 61.55 to allow licensees the flexibility of establishing a site-specific WAC [waste acceptance criteria] based on the results of the site's performance assessment in 10 CFR 61.41 and intruder assessment in 10 CFR 61.42." [emphasis added]
> Download Regulatory Basis for Proposed Revisions to Low-Level Waste Disposal Requirements (10 CFR Part 61), December 19, 2012
NRC discusses and invites comments on regulatory framework for disposal of large amounts of depleted uranium at low-level waste facilities:
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC or the Commission) plans to conduct a public meeting to discuss possible revisions to the regulatory framework for the management of commercial low-level radioactive waste (LLW), in particular large quantities of depleted uranium (DU).
The first public meeting will be held on March 2, 2012, in Phoenix, Arizona.
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 35 (Wednesday, February 22, 2012), p. 10401-10403 (download full text )
The second public meeting will be held on May 15, 2012, in Dallas, Texas.
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 89 (Tuesday, May 8, 2012) p. 26991-26993 (download full text )
Another public meeting with an extended area of topics will be held on July 19, 2012, in Rockville, Maryland: "NRC staff is interested in gaining a
better understanding of the issues associated with specifying a
regulatory time of compliance for a low-level radioactive waste
disposal facility, allowing licensees the flexibility to implement
waste acceptance criteria as an alternative to the current waste
classification system, and revising the NRC's licensing requirements
for land disposal of radioactive waste."
> Federal Register Volume 77, Number 133 (Wednesday, July 11, 2012) p. 40817-40820 (download full text )
> View Docket ID NRC-2011-0012
Comments should be submitted by July 31, 2012.
NRC staff proposal provides work-arounds to allow for continued disposal of large amounts of depleted uranium at low-level waste facilities:
While the NRC acknowledges that large amounts of depleted uranium were not considered when the low-level waste regulations of 10 CFR Part 61 were prepared...
"[...] the Commission recognized that there might be a situation in which a commercial waste stream could be created that was not contemplated as part of the original technical basis for Part 61, which is found in the Draft and Final Environmental Impacts Statements for the rule. [...]
Note: The mass of 629,000 MBq (17 Ci) of U-238 is 50.5 t, and the mass of 111,000 MBq (3 Ci) of U-235 is 1.4 t.
Some radionuclides, such as isotopes of uranium, were not expected to be generated in sufficient quantities or concentrations to warrant inclusion in the tables. The Part 61 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) [NUREG-0782 (NRC, 1981)] assumed that only 629,000 MBq (17 Ci) of U-238 and 111,000 MBq (3 Ci) of U-235 would be disposed of in one million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of waste over a 20-year generic LLW site operating life. Concentration limits for uranium were derived, but were not included in the final regulation because it was determined that the relatively small quantities of uranium waste expected to be generated by commercial facilities at the time did not warrant inclusion."
...the Commission ordered NRC Staff to prepare proposals for the amendment of the current regulations to allow for the intended continued disposal of depleted uranium in low-level waste deposits.
Two resulting staff papers were released on May 2, 2011. In particular, Staff recommends a "compliance period of no less than 20,000 years, with an annual dose limit of 25 mrem [0.25 mSv/a] TEDE" (total effective dose equivalent).
> Download Technical Basis for proposed rule to amend 10 CFR Part 61 to specify
requirements for the disposal of unique waste streams, including large quantities of depleted uranium (FSME-10-XXXX) (ADAMS Acc.No. ML111040419)
> Download Technical Analysis Supporting Definition of Period of Performance
for Low-Level Waste Disposal (ADAMS Acc.No. ML111030586)
> Download: Draft Environmental Impact Statement on 10 CFR Part 61 "Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste", NUREG-0782 , September 1981
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted two public workshops in September 2009 to solicit public views on major issues for new regulations on shallow-land disposal of unique radioactive wastes, including significant quantities of depleted uranium.
The first workshop was held Sept. 2-3, 2009, in Bethesda, Md. The second workshop was held Sept. 23-24, 2009, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
> View NRC news release Aug. 20, 2009
> View Potential Rulemaking: Unique Waste Streams (NRC)
> Download Bethesda, Md., transcripts: Sep. 2, 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092580469) · Sep. 3, 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092580481)
> Download Salt Lake City, Utah, transcripts: Sep. 23, 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092890511) · Sep. 24, 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092890516)
> Download Arjun Makhijani's notes on NRC's Sep. 2-3, 2009, workshop, Sep. 22, 2009 (75k PDF - IEER)
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plans to conduct
two public workshops to solicit public input on major issues associated
with a potential rulemaking for land disposal of unique waste streams
including, but not limited to, significant quantities of depleted
uranium in near-surface radioactive waste disposal facilities.
Comments on issues for the agenda should be postmarked no later than August 1, 2009.
Comments on the issues and questions presented in this notice and discussed at the workshops should be postmarked no later than October 30, 2009.
> View NRC news release June 24, 2009
> Federal Register: June 24, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 120) p. 30175-30179 (download full text )
> Download NRC memo: Unique waste streams workshops (including depleted uranium)
September 2009, Key Messages and FAQs from Communication Plan for DU Workshop , Aug. 17, 2009 (ADAMS Acc. No. ML092290644)
> Open Docket ID: NRC-2009-0257
U.S. NRC leaves low-level waste classification of depleted uranium unchanged, initiates rulemaking for near-surface disposal
In a Staff Requirements Memorandum issued March 18, 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted the staff's recommendation that the agency continue to consider depleted uranium as Class A low-level waste (that is the least hazardous category), but amend regulations in 10 CFR Part 61 to require a site-specific analysis for the disposal of large quantities of depleted uranium and the technical requirements for such an analysis. The Commission also directed the staff to develop a guidance document for public comment that outlines the parameters and assumptions to be used in conducting the site-specific analyses.
In a dissenting vote, Commissioner Jaczko rather called for a (re)classification of depleted uranium (so far, depleted uranium is not listed and therefore by default considered Class A): "The disposal of large quantities of depleted uranium (DU) is a unique challenge because, unlike typical low-level waste, the doses increase over time rather than decrease."
> View NRC release March 18, 2009
> Download Staff Requirements Memorandum March 18, 2009 (PDF)
> Download Commission Voting Record March 18, 2009 (PDF)
> Download Response to Commission Order CLI-05-20 Regarding Depleted Uranium, SECY-08-0147, October 7, 2008 (920k PDF)
The decision made up to 1.4 million tons of DU potentially eligible to go to EnergySolutions' Utah site.
It also solves a problem for the blossoming uranium enrichment industry, which would have had no disposal options if NRC had labeled DU differently, because hotter waste is not permitted in Utah. (The Salt Lake Tribune March 18, 2009)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision classifying depleted uranium as the least hazardous type of radioactive material is "unsupportable," the chairman of the House Environment and Energy Subcommittee said.
Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and subcommittee member Jim Matheson (D-Utah) demand that the NRC explain its decision in writing and provide records and communications that led to the vote. Deadline is April 2, 2009.
(AP Mar. 20/Mar. 25, 2009)
> Download Markey/Matheson letter to NRC, March 19, 2009 (PDF)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is being granted an extension to turn over stacks of documents that might explain why it recently decided to classify large quantities of depleted uranium as the least hazardous type of low-level radioactive waste.
The deadline has now been extended to April 20.
(AP Apr. 2, 2009)
On April 9, 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said classifying large amounts of depleted uranium as a more hazardous type of low-level radioactive waste without further study would not provide additional protections to public health, safety or the environment. (AP April 13, 2009)
> Download NRC letter April 9, 2009 (PDF)
NRC spokesman David McIntyre said Wednesday (April 22, 2009) three boxes worth of documents and an additional six expandable folders worth of information were delivered to the congressmen's offices on Tuesday. (Examiner April 22, 2009)
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is conducting a
strategic assessment of its low level radioactive waste (LLW)
regulatory program. The objective of this assessment is to identify and
prioritize activities that the staff can undertake to ensure a stable,
reliable and adaptable regulatory framework for effective LLW
management, while also considering future needs and changes that may
occur in the nation's commercial LLW management system.
The public comment period begins on July 7, 2006, and continues for 30 days.
Federal Register: July 7, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 130) p. 38675-38676 (download full text )
Strategic Assessment Issues Paper, DSI 5: Low Level Waste, Sep. 16, 1996 (1.8M PDF - ADAMS ML061700297)
Transcripts of NRC's Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste (ACNW): May 23, 2006 · May 24, 2006 (PDF)
U.S. NRC finds that depleted uranium is low level waste
> See here
U.S. NRC Petition for Rulemaking concerning control of disused DU counterweights
> See here
U.S. NRC Radiological Assessment of Exemptions for Source and Byproduct Materials
> See here
> See also Clive DU storage
Utah permits DU storage rather than disposal at Clive disposal site
> See here
EnergySolutions submits engineering report claiming large amounts of depleted uranium can safely be disposed at Clive landfill site
The Utah Radiation Control Board approved a new rule on April 14, 2010, that requires EnergySolutions to conduct a performance assessment before disposing of depleted uranium. The performance assessment was delivered to the Division of Radiation Control on June 1, 2011, and is currently under review. It has been posted online on June 20, 2011.
> Download EnergySolutions: Depleted Uranium Performance Assessment, June 1, 2011 (Utah DEQ)
DOE cancels search for interim storage site for depleted uranium rejected by Utah
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has scrapped its search for temporary storage for two shipments of depleted uranium and is now looking for another place to bury the low-level radioactive waste permanently.
Spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said her agency still wants “safe and cost-effective disposition” of depleted uranium (DU) from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, but the agency hasn’t settled on a path forward after delays that began about a year ago when Gov. Gary Herbert asked the DOE to stop sending the Savannah River waste here after the first of three shipments had already rolled into Utah.
(Salt Lake Tribune Dec. 21, 2010)
Energy auditors suggest keeping depleted uranium rejected by Utah at Savannah River Site, rather than sending it to Texas for interim storage
A plan to temporarily store two trainloads of Savannah River Site's depleted uranium in Texas after it was rejected by Utah's governor might be unnecessary and could waste taxpayers' money, according to the U.S. Energy Department's Inspector General.
"The only apparent driver in this case was a Recovery Act-related goal established by the Department to accelerate the general disposition of the SRS material," said the report, released Tuesday (April 13) as a "management alert" based on information received from a "reliable and credible" department source.
The radioactive material, left over from decades of nuclear weapons production, was stored in 15,600 drums that were to be disposed of at an EnergySolutions site in Clive, Utah.
After the first shipment -- 5,408 drums -- was sent to Utah in December, the state's governor protested further shipments. The Energy Department then idled two trainloads that remain at SRS.
According to the Inspector General's report, the newest proposal calls for moving the material to a facility owned by Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, for interim storage.
"Clearly, this choice carries with it a number of significant logistical burdens, including substantial additional costs for, among several items, repackaging at SRS, transportation to Texas, storage at the interim site, and, repackaging and transportation to the yet-to-be determined final disposition point," the auditors wrote.
Citing information from the unnamed source within the department, the auditors questioned that plan and suggested that it might be better to keep the material at SRS, where it has been safely stored for decades, until a permanent disposal solution is found.
(Augusta Chronicle Apr. 14, 2010)
> Download Audit Report: Management Alert on Environmental Management's Select Strategy for Disposition of Savannah River Site, Depleted Uranium Oxides, OAS-RA-10-07, April 2010 , U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, Office of Audit Services (244k PDF)
No excessive technetium-99 found in South Carolina depleted uranium sent for disposal in Clive, Utah
Samples of the depleted uranium waste from a government cleanup in South Carolina show that it meets a key safety limit, said the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
State regulators heard about the test results Monday (Apr. 5) from a Tennessee laboratory, which sampled 171 of the 5,400 drums sent most recently to Utah from the Savannah River Project cleanup for technetium-99, a waste product of reprocessing.
(Salt Lake Tribune Apr. 5, 2010)
IEER Report: South Carolina depleted uranium likely unfit for disposal in Clive, Utah
More than 10,000 drums of nuclear waste that have been buried in Utah likely include some radioactive material that's too hot to be buried under state law, according to an environmental group's report released Wednesday (Mar. 3, 2010).
The U.S. Department of Energy has been disposing of depleted uranium from a nuclear weapons complex near Aiken, S.C., since 2003 at EnergySolutions Inc.'s facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. It also has disposed of some material at the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles north of Las Vegas.
The report commissioned by Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah says that out of the original 33,000 drums from the Savannah River Site, as many as 5,600 could include material that violates state standards for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.
That's because the material includes radionuclide technetium-99, a man-made product that results from the fissioning of nuclear fuel in a reactor to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. State law only allows for certain levels of the material to be disposed of in Utah.
(AP Mar. 3, 2010)
> Download IEER Memorandum Feb. 16, 2010 (1.6MB PDF - Heal Utah)
Salt Lake County Council passed resolution against depleted uranium transports
The Salt Lake County Council passed a resolution 8-0 on Tuesday (March 2) that, although nonbinding, prohibits the transport of depleted uranium through the county.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Mar. 2, 2010)
No further shipments of depleted uranium from South Carolina for disposal in Clive, Utah
About 6,500 tons of low-level radioactive waste from South Carolina won't be coming to Utah as originally planned, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday (Feb. 22) in announcing a verbal agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Herbert said in a statement that the agreement will keep two trainloads of depleted uranium from the Savannah River Site from being disposed at EnergySolutions Inc.'s facility in Utah's west desert.
It wasn't immediately clear if the low-level radioactive waste would remain in South Carolina or be disposed of elsewhere. In a Nov. 17 presentation given to the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board, the DOE said if shipments to Utah were interrupted, the waste would be diverted to the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles north of Las Vegas.
(Denver Post Feb. 22, 2010)
Radiation expert blasts EnergySolutions for misleading public on hazards of DU disposal at Clive
The former chairman of the Radiation Control Board says EnergySolutions is misleading the public. Geochemist Stephen Nelson says the company falsely portrays its critics as anti-nuclear activists who don't know science.
"Well, I am, in fact, not opposed to nuclear power," Nelson says.
He's also an expert on radioactive isotopes.
"What I am for is the proper disposal of the byproducts of nuclear power," Nelson says.
He says the proper place for depleted uranium is a deep geologic formation, like a New Mexico salt deposit that will entomb the waste for millions of years. The wrong place, he says, is EnergySolutions' shallow landfill.
"I just don't think that squares with good science or with common sense," Nelson says.
He says the company falsely portrays the waste as benign, like natural uranium. In 50,000 years, he says it will be 13 times more radioactive.
Geochemist Stephen Nelson says the wrong place, he says, is EnergySolutions' shallow landfill in Tooele County.
Nelson's nightmare scenario is a dramatic rise in the Great Salt Lake. If Lake Bonneville returns, just enough to flood the north end of the Salt Lake Valley, it will also flood the landfill 60 miles to the west.
Nelson says that scenario is likely sometime in the next 100,000 years.
"There's a virtually 100 percent probability," he says.
An aerial photo shows Lake Bonneville once cut a bench 100 feet wide into solid bedrock. The landfill cover of concrete and rock, Nelson says, wouldn't stand a chance of holding radioactive waste in place.
"There's a very good chance that those piles would be very rapidly obliterated," Nelson says.
(KSL Television & Radio Jan. 12, 2010)
Depleted uranium to be disposed in Clive might contain reactor waste concentrations in excess of state limit
A Utah environmental group has scheduled a meeting with Gov. Gary Herbert to press its case that more testing is needed to make sure depleted uranium coming to Utah is not too hot.
HEAL says it reviewed shipping papers for some Savannah River, S.C., cleanup waste already in Utah and discovered that the DU, as depleted uranium is often called, contains reactor waste in concentrations that might top the radiological hazard limit set in state law.
But, according to the group, it's hard to say for sure because the U.S. Energy Department has sampled too few of the DU drums from its Savannah River cleanup in South Carolina -- just 33 of 33,000.
(Salt Lake Tribune Jan. 9, 2010)
Protest held against depleted uranium shipment to Clive disposal site
Two dozen protesters braved the cold Saturday (Dec. 19) morning to protest plans to ship more than 3,000 tons of depleted uranium through the state to Utah's western desert.
The protest was organized by the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah as a train carrying the first of three planned shipments of depleted uranium nears the state.
"We cannot allow this waste to be buried here, and we are asking Gov. Herbert to help us turn these trains around," said Christopher Thomas, policy director for HEAL Utah.
Thomas said a compromise worked out between Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Department of Energy Thursday is inadequate.
(Deseret News Dec. 19, 2009)
DOE agrees to suspend depleted uranium disposal at Clive
The Department of Energy said Thursday (Dec. 17) that it has struck a deal with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that would prohibit radioactive waste from South Carolina from being permanently buried in Utah until stricter state guidelines are put in place.
The first train, carrying 5,408 55-gallon drums of waste, won't be stopped or turned around, DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said. But the DOE agreed to place its waste in temporary storage once it arrives in Utah, rather than permanently disposing of it.
The waste is expected to arrive in Utah in the next two weeks.
Stutsman said Utah regulators will have two months to develop new guidelines for disposing of the material. During that time, the empty train will make its way back to South Carolina to load up more waste. In all, nearly 10,000 metric tons of depleted uranium will be disposed of in Utah. The final two rail shipments are expected to be completed by late spring, but they won't leave for Utah until the new disposal guidelines are set.
(AP Dec. 18, 2009)
Utah asks U.S. DOE to halt depleted uranium shipment to Clive disposal site; DOE goes on unimpressed
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is sending Energy Secretary Steven Chu a letter asking him to halt the shipment of nearly 15,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste from South Carolina for disposal in Utah.
Herbert says the Department of Energy is circumventing state regulators' efforts to ensure a private disposal facility in Utah's west desert can safely dispose of the depleted uranium.
(AP Dec. 15, 2009)
Despite Gov. Gary Herbert's eleventh-hour plea to stop it, the first shipment of depleted uranium is expected to arrive in Utah before the end of December. The first of three planned rail shipments has left the site and will reach Utah in the next two weeks. The second and third shipments are slated for 2010, according Energy Department spokesman James R. Giusti.
(Deseret News Dec. 17, 2009)
DOE ready to start shipments of depleted uranium for disposal in Utah, inspite of ongoing rulemaking process
A Department of Energy official on Thursday (Dec. 10) informed U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that 11,000 tons of the low-level radioactive waste -- packed in 14,800 drums -- is ready to be shipped from the Savannah River cleanup in South Carolina.
Rubbish from bomb-making and enrichment, the Savannah River waste will be buried at EnergySolutions Inc.'s specialized landfill in Tooele County. Both state and federal regulators are looking at what measures are needed to make sure shallow disposal sites like EnergySolutions' can safely contain large amounts of DU, as depleted uranium is often called.
In its decision Thursday, DOE cited a Dec. 1 letter by Utah Director of Environmental Quality Amanda Smith, who noted that EnergySolutions is licensed to accept DU even as the state updates its site-safety requirements for DU over the next few months. Smith said she had not seen the letter informing Matheson about the imminent shipments.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Dec. 10, 2009)
Public comment invited on Utah's revised proposal to impose additional conditions on depleted uranium disposal at Clive, until NRC's rulemaking process on DU disposal is completed
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Radiation Control (DRC), on behalf of the Utah Radiation Control Board, is requesting public comment regarding an amendment to EnergySolutions, LLC Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal License (RML uT230024e).
The License Amendment is proposed to impose certain requirements regarding the receipt and disposal of Depleted Uranium (DU).
Written comments will be accepted until the close of business on December 23, 2009.
> Download Utah DRC Public Notice - License Amendment, Nov. 19, 2009 (PDF) · license condition 35 (PDF)
The license amendment was issued on March 2, 2010.
> Download License Amendment No. 7: Radioactive Material License UT 2300249 (2.7M PDF)
The Utah Radiation Control Board signed off on a new rule Tuesday (Apr. 13) that imposes additional restrictions on the disposal of depleted uranium.
The rule, which requires the Clive facility to conduct a performance assessment for disposal of the radioactive material, will be published May 1 and go into effect by June 1.
(Deseret News Apr. 13, 2010)
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Radiation Control (DRC), on behalf of the Utah Radiation Control Board, is soliciting public comment regarding a proposed change to Utah Radiation Control Rule R313-25-8.
This rule incorporates language regarding a site-specific performance assessment for facilities that accept depleted uranium for land disposal, prior to the disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium.
Written comments will be accepted until the close of business on February 2, 2010.
> Download DRC Public Notice Dec. 30, 2009 (PDF)
> Download proposed Utah Radiation Control Rule R313-25-8 (PDF)
Utah's Radiation Control Board is moving forward with efforts to require a company that wants to dispose of depleted uranium in the state to first submit a report confirming that additional safeguards will work.
The board voted Tuesday (Nov. 10) to develop new rules requiring EnergySolutions Inc. to complete a "site performance assessment" before additional depleted uranium comes to Utah.
The rule-making process is expected to take up to 120 days.
Nearly 15,000 drums of the low-level radioactive waste were slated to start arriving in December at the company's facility about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City.
But the company doesn't expect the updated assessment to be done until December 2010.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Nov. 10, 2009)
Shallow landfill disposal of depleted uranium at Clive "absurd", geologists say
Three scientists say federal nuclear regulators owe Utahns an apology -- and a policy change -- for allowing shallow burial of depleted uranium, including the 49,000 tons already at EnergySolutions Inc.'s landfill in Tooele County.
Geologist Stephen T. Nelson and climatologist Summer B. Rupper, both of Brigham Young University, and Kansas State University geologist Charles G. Oviatt, say it is "absurd" for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deem depleted uranium safe for surface disposal.
The uranium enrichment waste gets increasingly hazardous for a million years, and that's too long to reasonably ensure the safety of any shallow landfills, especially one like the Tooele County site that is underwater a few hundred of every several thousand years. Those wet cycles could spread long-lived radioactive material throughout the Great Salt Lake basin, the scientists say.
All three scientists, none of them speaking for their universities, are experts in the geological history of Lake Bonneville -- the massive water body that has periodically covered parts of three states in the past 30,000 years but now has receded to the present-day Great Salt Lake.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Nov. 7, 2009)
Public comment invited on Utah's proposal to impose additional conditions on depleted uranium disposal at Clive, until NRC's rulemaking process on DU disposal is completed - cancelled
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has acknowledged
some inadequacies in its past analyses and possibly its current regulatory structure
with respect to disposal of substantial quantities of depleted uranium (DU). As a
result, it has started a rulemaking process (view details) to determine the conditions under which
DU and other unique wastes may be safely disposed of in near surface facilities. NRC has stated that new regulatory standards and guidance will be the likely
result from that rulemaking process, and that new performance assessments will
likely also be required. Rulemaking by the Division of Radiation Control (DRC)
would also likely be follow.
EnergySolutions has indicated to the Division that it
would prefer not to wait until the completion of the NRC's and DRC's
rulemaking processes or until completion of the resulting performance analysis
that will likely be required before it begins to dispose of depleted uranium at the
Clive facility. The additional license conditions in this Condition 35 are therefore
Written comments will be accepted until the close of business on November 25, 2009.
On Nov. 12, 2009, the Division of Radiation Control announced that the public comment period has been cancelled due to actions taken by the Radiation Control Board at its November 10, 2009 meeting (see above).
> Download Notice of Agency Action to Consider Proposed License Condition No. 35, Oct. 21, 2009 (157k PDF - Utah DRC)
> Download Public Notice (70k PDF - Utah DRC)
Utah rejects moratorium on disposal of depleted uranium
State officials Tuesday (Sep. 22) rejected a plea to place a moratorium on any more depleted-uranium shipments to an EnergySolutions site in Tooele County, possibly clearing the way for shipments next month of the radioactive waste.
But the state still could require the company to remove the waste in the future.
In an 8-3 vote, the Utah Radiation Control Board rebuffed a request from the anti-nuclear-waste group HEAL Utah to halt such shipments until the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission finishes a three-year examination of whether depleted uranium should be reclassified on the nation's radiation danger scale.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Sep. 22, 2009)
> Download Heal Utah's presentation at the Radiation Control Board meeting (4.6MB PDF)
Rep. Matheson asks Energy Department to halt depleted uranium shipments to Utah disposal site
With the likelihood that nearly 15,000 barrels of depleted uranium may be headed to Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson on Wednesday (Sep. 16) asked the Energy Department to suspend disposal of the radioactive material until scientists can further study the effects of its long-term storage.
The Energy Department plans to ship about 14,800 barrels of depleted uranium -- which becomes more hazardous over time -- to Utah's EnergySolutions facility in Clive as part of the cleanup of the department's Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
"Depleted uranium -- as it decays -- actually becomes 'hotter,' remaining dangerous for tens of thousands of years," Matheson said in a statement. "That raises concerns for me, when the facility here in Utah is engineered to store Class A waste with a radioactive life span of 100 years."
(The Salt Lake Tribune Sep. 16, 2009)
More depleted uranium to be disposed in Utah, while state still ponders moratorium
Even as state regulators consider a moratorium on new shipments of the radioactive material -- which becomes more hazardous over time -- the U.S. Department of Energy plans to ship another 14,800 barrels of it to the EnergySolutions Inc. disposal site in Tooele County.
Part of the $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money for the Savannah River cleanup site in South Carolina will pay for rail cars filled with depleted uranium to be buried in Utah during the next 13 months.
(The Salt Lake Tribune Aug. 5, 2009)
Energy Solutions proposes temporary license condition for imminent disposal of depleted uranium at Clive
"The Licensee shall place all wastes with depleted uranium concentrations greater than 5 percent (by weight) a minimum of 10 feet below the top of the cover. This license condition shall be removed following the completion of the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission's rulemaking on Depleted Uranium and subsequent approval by the Division of the site specific performance assessment for the Clive facility."
(Energy Solutions letter to Utah DRC, July 27, 2009)
Utah Radiation Control Board to study depleted uranium disposal
Utah's Radiation Control Board will dig deeper into the long-term risks of depleted uranium before it decides whether the unusual form of low-level radioactive waste warrants a moratorium.
(The Salt Lake Tribune June 9, 2009)
Utah Radiation Control Board ponders moratorium for depleted uranium disposal at Clive LLRW disposal site
A half dozen Utahns urged regulators to demand that the long-term safety of residents is assured before allowing any more depleted uranium to be buried in the state.
The message, part of an organized effort by the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL), landed before the Utah Radiation Control Board on Tuesday (May 12, 2009). And the panel asked its lawyers to begin looking at the legal implications of imposing a moratorium on the low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal until that assurance can be made confidently.
EnergySolutions Inc.'s low-level radioactive waste-disposal site in Tooele County has accepted about 49,000 tons of depleted uranium over about two decades.
(The Salt Lake Tribune, May 12, 2009)
Radioactive Material License precludes further disposal of depleted uranium at WCS site in Texas
The Radioactive Material License R04100 (3.2MB PDF) issued to Waste Control Specialists LLC by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Sep. 10, 2009, excludes the disposal of "large quantities of depleted uranium or similar material."
Import of DU counterweights from United Kingdom to USA for land burial in Texas
> See here
Safety analysis for Gorleben repository considers only part of expected amount of depleted uranium to be disposed of
The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection estimates the net volume of depleted uranium that has to disposed of in the planned Gorleben nuclear waste repository at up to 100,000 cubic metres. However, the preliminary Gorleben safety analysis to be prepared by Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit uses only a volume of about 35,000 cubic metres.
(Antwort der Parlamentarischen Staatssekretärin Ursula Heinen-Esser vom 8. September 2011 auf die schriftliche Frage der Abgeordneten Sylvia Kotting-Uhl (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN))
> Download Schriftliche Fragen mit den in der Woche vom 5. September 2011 eingegangenen Antworten der Bundesregierung, Drucksache 17/6954, Deutscher Bundestag, 17. Wahlperiode, 09. 09. 2011 (2.94MB PDF) - S. 133