DOE says plutonium-bearing drums are safe for storage

radioactivesignAn evaluation has apparently ruled out a detonation risk involving a “small population” of drums containing plutonium at a storage site at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

An initial review last fall identified a risk because the drums had “the potential to generate hydrogen and oxygen gases higher than anticipated.” However, Ben Williams, a spokesman in the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said a completed safety analysis — which assessed the potential risks and their storage arrangements — “revealed that the containers and current configuration” are safe for long-term storage.

The plutonium was generated during operations at DOE’s Savannah River site in the 1970s, and the containers were shipped to ORNL in the 1980s for repackaging and long-term storage. They’ve been in Oak Ridge ever since.

Each of the drums reportedly has multiple layers of containment, with the small quantity of plutonium oxide and/or metal inside the inner-most component (called a “pipe nipple”).

“Currently, we are conducting additional analysis to determine the safest methods to repackage and dispose of the waste,” Williams said in response to questions.

The containers will remain in safe storage at the Melton Valley Solid Waste Storage Facility and the Transuranic Waste Processing Center in Oak Ridge “until the additional analysis is complete and work is scheduled,” the federal spokesman said. That work is likely to be done in Fiscal Year 2017, he said.

Williams confirmed that the plan is to ultimately ship the materials to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

A feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted on the news blog. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.

This entry was posted in NNSA, nuclear, Oak Ridge EM, ORNL on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.