Large quantities of low-level radioactive waste are being shipped out of the West Valley Demonstration Project site by truck and rail while other highly radioactive items are being packaged and stored in shielded areas at the former commercial nuclear fuels reprocessing facility in Ashford.
A group of federal and state agency officials, along with representatives of West Valley Nuclear Services Co., the contractor working at the facility, presented an update of site activities and the status of work and discussed a mishap involving equipment removal during a quarterly report on the project.
"In shipping of low-level radioactive waste, in the community it has gone by without much notice, but we have been moving out a lot over a couple of months," said Stuart MacVean of O the nuclear services firm.
He said a record volume of 22,329 cubic feet of the low-level waste was shipped during the week of Oct. 4 in five trucks and seven rail cars. Work is progressing toward a Dec. 31 target date for removal of all 120,000 cubic feet of low-level materials and the equipment used during the vitrification process, in which 24 million curies of high-level radioactive liquid was converted to 600 tons of solid glass filling 275 waste canisters.
MacVean said 12 of 17 special containers have been filled with some of the 11,500 gallons of liquid sodium-bearing waste, and 55,000 cubic feet of highly radioactive waste has been identified for processing in a remote-handled facility already on line. A new coating developed at Rocky Flats in Colorado is being used to contain large or unusually shaped equipment that is being sent to the Nevada Test Site as low-level waste, and the disposal and shipping rate will stay "ramped up" for the low-level materials that are not bound by tougher standards governing the more highly contaminated materials covered in the not-yet-finalized environmental impact study. According to Russ Mellor, firm president, the removal of a 54-ton melter from the vitrification cell will be completed in a few days and placed in a package with carbon-steel walls up to six inches thick. After grout is added to the package, it will weigh 200 tons and emit about 30 millirems of radiation per hour. It will be stored on the site to await shipping to a final destination.
The highly radioactive melter's removal posed special problems last week when it tipped slightly while moving up a seven-degree incline on a 20-foot ramp. Mellor said a jack has been moved into position to realign it with the track. John Garcia, a radiological control expert, said workers have used the melter's lid as a shield to keep the radioactive dose under 15 millirems per hour to reposition the equipment.
T.J. Jackson, West Valley Demonstration Project acting director for the U.S. Department of Energy, said decontamination of two cells in the former reprocessing plant and the complete removal of all piping and hardware in the plutonium and uranium extraction cell will be completed this month. Also, 26 mobile office trailers have been removed, with most being reused by the state Department of Transportation and the state Parks Department.
In response to an audience member, Jackson declined to give specifics about the scope of work for removal of the more highly radioactive materials and the classification of wastes due to pending pact renewal and DOE clearance.