Friday, October 9, 2009

Bulky waste prompts EnergySolutions to seek license updates

By Judy Fahys

The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 10/09/2009

EnergySolutions Inc. wants to bring in large pipes and other discards from the cleanup of an old Manhattan Project site that are contaminated with Special Nuclear Material.

And federal nuclear regulators don't see why the company shouldn't. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a formal "finding of no significant impact" for the proposal and are seeking public comment on the project through Nov. 6.

The regulators say not only is the project in line with the company's existing state and federal permits, but it also could reduce the risk of accidents and injuries by allowing fewer cross-country trips of the radiation-tainted waste. They want to clear the way for the state Division of Radiation Control to allow the shipments.

"Our analysis basically says it looks like [the latest proposal] would have no significant environmental impact," said NRC spokesman David McIntyre.

The Special Nuclear Materials, or SNM, EnergySolutions wants to take is waste from the government-owned K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, which was built to enrich uranium for atomic bombs at Oak Ridge, Tenn. The waste has its own class of rules because certain forms of the uranium and plutonium in it can, if too concentrated, cause a spontaneous nuclear explosion.

EnergySolutions originally made its request on SNM in 2006. The Salt Lake City nuclear services company needs to change its governing agreement with the NRC because the pipes and other large pieces of SNM-contaminated waste are bigger than currently allowed.

NRC engineers have been studying the request to make sure the larger packages won't put excessive amounts of SNM in too-close proximity. They also wanted to check that the special disposal practices proposed by EnergySolutions will indeed keep the water-soluble contamination from leaking off the grounds of the company's Tooele County disposal site, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Once federal regulators sign off on the proposal, state regulators also will have to review it and agree to change EnergySolutions' license before the shipments would be allowed.

A public hearing is possible in Utah, said state radiation officer John Hultquist, whose office already has seen and commented on the company's plans.

"We trust the system that develops the rules and regulations for the nuclear industry and EnergySolutions fully complies with these rules and regulations," said Mark Walker, a company spokesman. "EnergySolutions is a world leader in the processing, transportation and disposal of nuclear material and the company safely manages these materials."

The EnergySolutions site began accepting SNM waste in the 1990s, even before its state license allowed it. In 1997, regulators fined the company -- then called Envirocare of Utah -- $80,000 over the lapse. The company obtained a Radiation Control Division license soon after to dispose of the material, and state legislators passed a bill in 2004 that further raised the limits for the concentration of the SNM allowed.

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