The old stockpile of uranium-233 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been an ongoing concern for years, with twists and turns in the planning process and always questions about the ultimate cost of the project. How many hundreds of millions of dollars is it going to take to get these fissionable and highly radioactive materials disposed of safely?
The Department of Energy, after protracted negotiations with the state of Nevada, is apparently proceeding with direct disposal of some of the U-233/U-235 stuff — characterized by its former life as “CEUSP” or Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project — at the Nevada National Security Site. But there hasn’t been much said about those shipments from Oak Ridge to the Nevada desert, apparently because of security concerns regarding the cross-country transportation of sensitive materials. It’s not clear how much progress has been made in completing the CEUSP work.
There are, of course, other U-233 materials in storage at ORNL’s Building 3019 that have to be dealt with, and DOE has said it plans to downblend those materials with depleted uranium, apparently to eliminate the weapons-making potential, and dispose of them as low-level radioactive waste.
Asked for an update on plans to process the U-233, Mike Koentop, executive officer of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said via email:
“We are currently preparing for the processing campaign, and depending on funding, could begin processing in the early 2020s. Once processing begins, we estimate the campaign will take approximately three and a half years to complete and at a cost of approximately $18-20 million annually.”
Koentop said the cost estimate does not include the funding necessary to maintain Building 3019 — where it’s being stored — while processing is ongoing.
“After processing, the resulting material will be disposed as low-level waste,” he said. “However, we have not yet determined which disposal facility we will use.”
The Department of Energy earlier moved stocks of depleted uranium from Savannah River to Oak Ridge to prepare for the U-233 project.
According to Koentop, the Oak Ridge project will not need all of the depleted uranium acquired from Savannah River because the CEUSP materials are being directly disposed of in Nevada.
“We will use a portion of the DU for processing and the remainder of the DU inventory will be shipped for disposal starting this year,” he said.
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