Y-12 completes waste milestone 2 years ahead of schedule

y12signThe government announced Monday that the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge had completed the disposal of 2,247 containers of so-called mixed waste – containing both radioactive materials and hazardous chemicals – more than two years ahead of schedule.

The federal plant was required to get rid of the stored wastes by September 2018 under terms of a commissioner’s order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The mandate is part of an agreed-upon Site Treatment Plan for dealing with legacy wastes generated decades ago by facilities on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation.

According to the announcement by the National Nuclear Security Administration, most of the wastes were shipped to EnergySolutions’ disposal facility near Clive, Utah. The other containers were sent to the Nevada National Security Site for burial.

Geoff Beausoleil, manager of the NNSA’s Production Office, said removal of the old wastes was a “key priority” for the federal agency.

“Completing this removal project two years ahead of schedule is a significant achievement,” Beausoleil said in a statement.

The project took place over the past five years. The NNSA did not have a cost estimate on the waste-disposal effort.

The “vast majority” of the waste inventory consisted of solid materials and did not require any special treatment. However, many of the waste containers had to be repackaged to meet federal transportation requirements for shipping uranium.

A smaller portion of Y-12’s  waste inventory required a series of treatment and processing activities to prepare the materials for permanent disposal.

“These wastes were split among containers to reduce the uranium content and then ‘rocked up’ for disposal, meaning a small container of the waste was placed inside a larger container that was then filled with concrete,” the NNSA said in the announcement.

The most challenging work involved organic solutions stored in bottles, the agency said.

“These required processing and several splits to sufficiently reduce the uranium content to meet shipping requirements and stabilization/solidification to meet disposal requirements,” the NNSA release stated. “In total, the waste left Y-12 in 193 shipments.”

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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.