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D&D Industry News

Keep up with deactivation and decommissioning industry news and current events.

How safe are countries’ nuclear materials

February 04, 2016

OVER the weekend, the UN’s nuclear watchdog announced that Iran had complied with the terms of a deal—agreed last July—to disable the country’s nuclear-weapons programme. In recognition, the majority of international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy for the past decade were lifted. America’s secretary of state John Kerry hailed it as "the first day of a safer world" and a prisoner swap between the two countries was announced. Critics in the US Congress counter that the terms were too soft and reward brinksmanship. Under the July deal, Iran decommissioned reactors that could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium and reduced its holdings of low-enriched uranium, which can be further enriched ​to weapons-grade material.

Yet preventing a country’s production of nuclear materials that can be used in weapons is just one counter-proliferation measure. Another is to protect against current stockpiles falling into the wrong hands, or better yet, to ensure countries have nothing to steal by eliminating their stocks altogether. This has been the purpose of the international nuclear security summits that have been held every two years since 2010, the last of which will be held in Washington, DC, in March 2016. On these measures, Iran does not fare well. Of the 24 countries that had nuclear stockpiles of at least 1kg in 2015, Iran is second-worst in the world at securing these from theft, according to an index from the Nuclear Threat Initiativeand the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company.

In graphics: The implications and consequences of Iran's nuclear dealGlobally, progress is being made, but it is slowing. A dozen countries have eliminated their stockpiles, but only Uzbekistan has done so since the 2014 index. Several countries have increased their stockpiles in that time, including India, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, and Britain. Almost 2,000 tonnes of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain stored around the world. There is also a growing risk of sabotage by a number of methods which includes cyber attacks. Around 45 countries have some form of nuclear facilities, and would be vulnerable to a radiological leak on the same scale as the Fukushima disaster. The most vulnerable nations are, again, Iran and North Korea. Of the countries with nuclear facilities, developing countries with new nuclear programmes such Egypt and Algeria are least secure. Iran and other nations still have much to do to make the world a safer place.​​​

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E-learning for Nuclear Newcomers

February 04, 2016

Is your country considering nuclear power?

The IAEA is here to help!

We have created an interactive e-learning series explaining the IAEA’s Milestones Approach to introducing a nuclear power programme. This approach is based on three phases and covers the 19 infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, and brings decades of expertise to life. Both newcomers and those expanding their nuclear power programmes may benefit from the e-learning series.​

E-learning Modules

We have developed interactive and engaging e-learning modules explaining various aspects of nuclear power infrastructure development, which are listed below.

NEW: All modules can now be downloaded

  1. Register on the IAEA Open Learning Management System CLP4NET​
  2. Then you can:
    • start a module
    • download a module to your device, network or learning management system
    • send feedback on your e-learning experience to the IAEA.

Do you need help navigating through the e-learning modules?

Based on a feedback we’ve got from users we have now created the User Guide Animation together with the accompanying PDF.

This User Guide has been designed to help you to use the IAEA Milestones e-learning modules. It will guide you through the basic navigation and some of the key features of the e-learning. It will also provide some useful hints and tips to make your journey through the e-learning as easy as possible.

Who benefits?

The e-learning modules target a variety of stakeholders in Member States interested in or embarking on a nuclear power programme:

Decision makers, advisers and senior managers in governmental organizations, regulatory bodies, utilities and industries, as well as donors, suppliers and other related bodies.

Students, academics and researchers in the nuclear field may better understand the "big picture" of developing nuclear power programmes.

Those involved in expanding existing nuclear power programmes may also find the modules a valuable resource.

Whatever your role or interest in your country's nuclear power programme, this e-learning will further you knowledge and understanding.​

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Third Japanese reactor resumes operation

February 04, 2016

Kansai Electric Power Company today restarted unit 3 of its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture. The company soon plans to start loading fuel into unit 4 at the plant ahead of its restart.

Takahama 3 was restarted at 5.00pm today, Kansai said, adding that it expects the 870 MWe pressurized water reactor to reach criticality tomorrow. The unit's output will gradually be increased while tests are conducted and, following a final inspection by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), it is expected to re-enter commercial operation by the end of February. However, Kansai said this schedule may change "depending on the result of the ongoing inspection by the NRA".

Takahama 3 and 4 - 250 (Kansai)
Takahama units 3 and 4 (Image: Kansai)

Kansai completed loading 157 nuclear fuel assemblies - including 24 mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies - into the core of unit 3 in December.

The company plans to start loading fuel into the core of Takahama 4 on 31 January as all necessary preparatory inspections and activities have now been completed. That unit is expected to resume operation in late March at the earliest.

Units 3 and 4 of the Takahama plant have remained offline since being shut for periodic inspections in February 2012 and July 2011, respectively.

Kansai first applied to the NRA for permission to restart the units in July 2013. It subsequently submitted various amendments to its plans to increase the plant's resistance to extreme events, such as earthquakes, tsunami and tornadoes, in accordance with the regulator's requirements. Such amendments have resulted from the findings of reviews carried out along the way, incorporating details from the latest equipment designs.

In February 2015, the NRA gave its final permission for Kansai to make the required safety upgrades at the units prior to their restart. The company had reportedly aimed to restart the two reactors by last November. However, this remained blocked by a temporary injunction imposed by the Fukui District Court in April, which was eventually lifted on 24 December.

In a statement, Kansai's president and director Makoto Yagi said, "We will give sincere and deliberate support to the subsequent inspections to be performed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority." He added, "At the same time, we will carefully take steps towards the resumption of the commercial operation of our nuclear power plants under an enhanced system of oversight established in cooperation with the manufacturers and contractors while making safety the top priority."

Unit 1 of Kyushu Electric Power Company's Sendai plant in Kagoshima prefecture was the first of Japan's operable reactors to resume operation since September 2013 when it restarted last August. The restart of unit 2 followed in October.

Another 20 reactors are moving through the restart process, which has been prioritised to bring on the most-needed reactors first, in the localities and prefectures more supportive of restart.​​​

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U.S. Department of Energy and New Mexico Finalize $74M in Settlement Agreements for Nuclear Waste Incidents of 2014

February 04, 2016

Washington, DC — Today, the New Mexico Environment Department, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors signed two settlement agreements to resolve the State of New Mexico Environment Department’s claims against DOE and its contractors related to the February 2014 incidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad and the associated activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Under the agreements, which provide funding and scheduling parameters for a set of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in both the Carlsbad and Los Alamos communities, New Mexico’s roads, water infrastructure, and emergency response infrastructure will receive critical improvements. The finalized settlement agreements are based on the State of New Mexico’s and DOE’s General Principles of Agreement signed by the parties on April 30, 2015.    

“LANL and WIPP are critical assets to our nation’s security, our state’s economy, and the communities in which they operate,” said New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. “The funds New Mexico will receive through this agreement will help ensure the future safety and success of these facilities, the people who work at them, and their local communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government to ensure the safety and success of both LANL and WIPP.”

“We are pleased to resolve the Administrative Compliance Orders so that we can continue to focus full attention on resuming and improving our waste management operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “The projects we are funding as part of this settlement are important investments in the health and safety of New Mexicans who work at or live nearby DOE facilities, and will enhance our operations.”

These projects, estimated at a total value of $74 million, include approximately:

  • $34 million to help the N.M. Department of Transportation to make necessary repairs to New Mexico roads used for the transportation of transuranic waste to WIPP in the southeastern portion of New Mexico. The first project is to repair the WIPP North Access Road, an approximately 13-mile stretch of road between Highway 62-180 and the WIPP site.
  • $4 million to fund the construction of and equipment for an offsite emergency operations center near WIPP to be operated by DOE.
  • $1 million to fund enhanced training and capabilities for local emergency responders, in and around Carlsbad, NM, including funding for training and exercises with local mine rescue teams.
  • Up to $12 million to improve DOE-owned transportation routes at LANL used to ship transuranic waste to WIPP.
  • $10 million to replace aging potable water lines and install metering equipment for LANL potable water systems.
  • $7.5 million to design and install engineering structures in canyons in and around LANL to slow storm water flow and decrease sediment load to improve water quality.
  • $2.5 million to fund increased sampling and monitoring capabilities for storm water runoff in and around LANL, with the results of the sampling and monitoring to be shared with the public and NMED.
  • $3 million for agreements to conduct external triennial compliance reviews of environmental regulatory compliance and operations at WIPP and LANL.

The agreements further require that DOE and its contractors implement the necessary corrective actions at both facilities in order to ensure safe and sustainable continued operations to resolve the State of New Mexico Environment Department’s Administrative Compliance Orders issued in December of 2014, which totaled $54.3 million in civil penalties. 

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UK decommissioning agency lays out plans to 2019

January 27, 2016

The UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has unveiled its draft Strategy and Business Plan for 2016-2019 for formal consultation. The documents, published yesterday, reflect the NDA's five-year budget as determined through the government's Spending Review set out by Chancellor George Osborne in November.

The Strategy, published every five years, looks at the NDA's long-term mission through a number of themes while the Business Plan, which is published annually, takes a more focused look at the next three years of activity across its estate, together with the associated funding. The consultation period for both documents will end on 15 February.

Chief Executive John Clarke said the NDA had been able to offer savings to the Treasury of around GBP1 billion ($1.5 million) over the Spending Review period. In return, it has secured over GBP11 billion of grant funding for the next five years which, together with its income projections, will enable it to continue to make broad progress across its nuclear estate.

An early version of the draft Strategy was published last September for a period of informal engagement with stakeholders - including NDA Site Stakeholder Groups, trade unions, local authority representatives from England, Wales and Scotland, and its subsidiaries and Site Licence Companies (SLCs) - and the NDA has now published its response to the comments it received. It has concluded that "the overall direction of travel for the draft Strategy is correct."

Business Plan

The NDA's draft Business Plan for the next three years contains total planned expenditure for 2016/2017 of GBP3.2 billion, of which GBP2.3 billion will be funded by UK government and GBP900 million by income from commercial operations. Planned expenditure on site program will be GBP3 billion, while non-site expenditure is expected to be GBP200 million.

The GBP3.2 billion total compares with GBP3.3 billion in the 2015-2016 plan. Income is expected to be GBP949 million, compared with GBP1.2 billion in 2015-2016.

Planned expenditure according to site is - Sellafield Limited GBP2 billion; Magnox Limited GBP550 million; Dounreay Site Restoration Limited GBP177 million; Low Level Waste Repository Limited GBP68 million; Capenhurst Nuclear Services (owned by Urenco) GBP49 million; and Springfields Fuels Limited (owned by Westinghouse Electric) GBP33 million.

The decision taken last year to change the delivery model at Sellafield means that from the start of the next financial year, Sellafield will become a subsidiary of the NDA. This is progressing well, Clarke noted, and is "highlighting areas where real benefit will be achieved in delivering value for money and improved confidence in delivery".

Consolidation of the updated Magnox plan - incorporating what was Research Sites Restoration Limited (RSRL) following last year's competition, together with the funding provided in the Spending Review - "will allow the delivery of significant benefits from this revised program approach", Clarke said.

The 2016/17 financial year will see the start of defuelling of the Wylfa reactor after its closure last month. The NDA has succeeded in extending the life of the world's oldest Magnox plant by five years beyond the originally planned closure date, Clarke said, "making the maximum possible contribution to the UK's energy supply and using the income from electricity sales to reduce the NDA's call on the Exchequer."

The continued demonstration of the UK's ability to decommission the early fleet of nuclear power stations supports the policy of new nuclear generation being a "vital part of UK's low-carbon energy mix in future", he said.

The planning and execution of the transportation of a range of nuclear materials from Dounreay will continue as a priority activity, he said. The recent announcement by LLWR that the Environment Agency has approved the application for a revised Environmental Permit means the NDA can now, subject to planning consent, make decisions on lifetime capacities rather than annual disposal limits, he said.

The NDA expects to publish the finalised Business Plan by the end of March.

Draft Strategy

In its Draft Stratetgy, the NDA says that early decommissioning plans "inevitably focused on site-by-site solutions", which was reflected in its first Strategy, effective from April 2011. Then, "more sophisticated generic approaches were introduced to improve the delivery of our mission and secure best value for money".

In its latest Strategy, it identified five strategic themes under which it has grouped all its activities - site decommissioning and remediation; used fuel management; nuclear materials; integrated waste management; and critical enablers. During the development of its previous Strategy, the NDA had an approved program of key competitions to appoint PBOs for the SLCs.

"The existence of this program meant that 'competition' was taken to mean simply 'PBO competition' and that there was a medium-term resource requirement which could be planned for and retained as the organization moved progressively from one PBO competition to another," it said. "Since our previous Strategy, the PBO/SLC contracts for Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) and Magnox and RSRL have been placed."

"Our experience has shown that the ability to bring fresh commercial thinking to each new competition has brought continued improvements in value for money and risk transfer. Both these contracts are based on an outcome specification - for example the achievement of the interim end state for Winfrith and defined interim states for the other sites. They are also based on an incentivised target cost contract which offers the opportunity to save over GBP2.5 billion for the taxpayer over the life of the two contracts," it said.

As well as changing the management model at Sellafield, the NDA also changed its contracting approach at Capenhurst in 2012. "Following a significant transformation and transition process", the site was transferred to Urenco along with the existing activities. Additionally the NDA and Urenco signed agreements for the deconversion of its uranium hexafluoride management facility constructed at the Capenhurst site. These agreements reduced the NDA's net liabilities and enabled Urenco to invest in new facilities on the Capenhurst site.

"All of these arrangements are designed to endure for the lifetime of this Strategy and beyond. However the recent decision for model change at Sellafield has highlighted the importance of providing an agile response to changing Strategy in support of our SLCs," the NDA said. "Meanwhile other projects, apart from those relating directly to the SLCs, may come onto the horizon, (e.g. plutonium re-use), which would entail major procurement." 

In terms of continuing contract management, the LLWR Limited contract has been renewed with a revised fee structure taking on board the lessons learnt from the first five years of operation, the NDA said. "The contract is designed to increase alignment with our long-term objectives. In particular fee earning is now based on the achievement of targets. It reflects LLWR Limited's contribution to the national low level waste (LLW) program as well as to the running of the Low Level Waste Repository at Drigg," it said, adding that this contract will be up for renewal in 2018.

"It is clear that contracting is critical to us, as we spend 95% of our funding externally. Contracting in its widest sense is an important capability for the whole estate to retain," it said. "This capability includes the ability to provide effective governance for the contracting lifecycle. The combination of Competition and Contracting and Incentivisation topic strategies into one topic Strategy reflects commercial best practice. The full acquisition lifecycle is managed coherently from identification of need through procurement, into contract management, lessons learnt and planning for the next steps once the contract term ends."

Regarding supply chain development, the NDA said that, since its previous Strategy, two significant external developments had occurred - the global financial crisis, "which has led to an increased focus on collaboration, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the UK Growth agenda", and also the UK's nuclear new build program.

"Our supply chain development initiatives have resulted in a collaborative procurement program amounting to GBP2.8 billion of spend and delivering over GBP140 million savings since 2010. We have provided suppliers with access to even more information (e.g. annual procurement plans and early market engagement sessions) to enable better planning," the NDA said.

The NDA expects the finalised Strategy will be published in April.​

Read the full article at:


Virtual reality to be used to help decommission Fukushima plant

January 27, 2016

NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture--A virtual reality system here that will assist in the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is preparing for full-scale operations this spring.

Located at the Naraha Remote Technology Development Center, the system features a 3.6-meter-high display that simulates 3-D images of the interiors of the reactor buildings at the Fukushima plant.

The research and training center was developed by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency as part of efforts for the lengthy decommissioning process, which is expected to take 30 to 40 years.

By using dedicated virtual reality goggles, researchers can view simulated 3-D images of the interiors of reactor buildings that are currently inaccessible to humans because of dangerous levels of radiation. The display shows estimated dose of radiation levels in millisieverts during planned work at the site in the upper part of the image.

The center also features a model of a reactor containment vessel to be used for training in decommissioning methods.​

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New remote-controlled machines to enable safer decommissioning of nuclear reactors

January 27, 2016

Engineers from Lancaster University are working on a new project to enable safer decommissioning of nuclear reactors.

A joint effort between the University of Manchester, Hybrid Instruments and Japanese partners, the project aims at developing a remote-controlled vehicle capable of evaluating radiation levels in the adverse environments.

Additionally, the submersible remote-controlled machines will enable accelerated clean-up of nuclear disaster sites.

The Japanese partners for the project include the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the National Maritime Research Institute of Japan and the Nagaoka University of Technology.

"Our research will focus on developing a remote-operated submersible vehicle with detection instruments that will be able to identify the radioactive sources."

The technology will enable enhanced detection and evaluation of underwater radiation, especially neutron and gamma-ray fields, consequently resulting in the removal of nuclear fuel debris.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the project will also help identify nuclear fuel.

Lancaster University nuclear engineering professor and lead author of the research Malcolm Joyce said: "Our research will focus on developing a remote-operated submersible vehicle with detection instruments that will be able to identify the radioactive sources.

"This capability does not currently exist and it would enable clean-up of the stricken Fukushima reactors to continue."

The project will leverage on the radiation detection technology expertise of the Lancaster University engineers while University of Manchester experts will focus on developing the remote-operated vehicle.

University of Manchester applied control professor Barry Lennox said: "A key challenge with the remote-operated vehicle will be to design it so that it can fit through the small access ports typically available in nuclear facilities.

"These ports can be less than 100mm in diameter, which will create significant challenges."

The technology is expected to be useful for detecting naturally-occurring radioactive material in offshore fields in the oil and gas sector in the near future.​

Read the full article at:


Problems with prototype reactor threaten Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling plan

January 27, 2016

Japan’s energy policy is facing major obstacles this year, as problems 

surrounding an experimental reactor threaten to foil long-laid plans to recycle 
nuclear fuel.

The government is trying to develop a commercial fast-breeder nuclear reactor to recycle nuclear fuel and raise the energy self-sufficiency rate, currently at about 6 percent, of the world’s fifth-largest energy consuming country.

Resource-poor Japan imports all of its uranium for nuclear power generation — one of its core power sources — from Canada and other countries, but it seeks to make fuel on its own using an advanced fast-breeder reactor capable of producing more plutonium than it consumes.

Plutonium can be used as nuclear fuel for conventional and fast-breeder reactors by mixing it with uranium. Japan currently uses overseas companies to reprocess its spent fuel into uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, with a view to homegrown reprocessing in the future.

The fast-breeder reactor development project recently hit a major stumbling block, however, that put the entire project at risk of shutting down.

The regulator instructed the government in November to consider steps to guarantee the safety of the trouble-prone Monju reactor, including an option to close it down if a new operator cannot be found within six months.

The government has spent more than ¥1 trillion ($8.27 billion) on Monju, a prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor that remains under development.

But ongoing safety problems have left the reactor idled for much of the time since it first achieved criticality in 1994.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has criticized the current operator, the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency, for having made little progress in enhancing safety management even after a slew of safety problems led to a protracted halt in operations.

Hiroshi Hase, the science minister in charge of the project, set up a panel to discuss a possible successor to operate the reactor.

But the regulator’s warning sparked concerns over the fate of the project, as many industry observers think it would be tough to find a replacement.

Establishing yet another government body is no longer a solution after the government’s repeated attempts to create new entities to run Monju failed to realize safe operation, an NRA official said.

The JAEA, established in 2005 by the government through a merger of two former national nuclear research institutions, is already the Monju plant’s third operator.

It would be too risky to let a private company take charge of the prototype reactor, which generates electricity in a more complex way than light-water reactors that many utilities run at present, experts said.

“A (private) power company doesn’t have the technical expertise” to run a fast-breeder nuclear reactor, Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC), told reporters when asked about replacements for the JAEA.

The Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a pro-nuclear activist group, criticized the NRA’s decision as a move that could lead to the closure of Monju and a drastic overhaul of the country’s nuclear energy policy.

The government should “correct the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s excessive” behavior, the institute said in a newspaper advertisement in December, arguing that the NRA has no jurisdiction over the nation’s energy policy.

Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the NRA, has repeatedly said his body wants the science minister, who is in charge of the Monju project, to ensure the experimental reactor’s safety and has no intention to push the ministry to discontinue it.

“It is up to the ministry to decide” whether to close it, Tanaka said at a news conference.

Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, an independent anti-nuclear advocacy group, said no power companies and government bodies have the ability to carry out the project safely.

“I think (closing it) is really what the government should do,” he said.

Monju has a long track record of problems, starting with a major fire caused by a sodium leak in 1995 that resulted in the project being suspended until May 2010.

It was halted again in August of the same year after a fuel replacement device for the reactor was accidentally dropped, leaving it inoperable until now.

Shutting down the reactor due to safety issues would be tantamount to Japan giving up on development of a commercial fast-breeder reactor, Ban said.

However, terminating the project could create a new headache: the stockpiling of plutonium with no fast-breeder reactor running on MOX fuel to use it. Such a decision would reinforce international fears that the nuclear fuel could be put to military use.

Chinese envoy Fu Cong said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee in October that Japan’s fissile materials inventory is already large enough to make more than 1,000 nuclear warheads.

The FEPC had planned to use such MOX fuel at 15 conventional reactors by the end of March 2016. That plan, however, has been stalled since the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011 left most reactors in Japan suspended for safety reviews under newly tightened regulations.

If abandoning the fast-breeder reactor project derails Japan’s plan to launch its own reprocessing of spent fuel, concerns are likely to grow over what to do with spent fuel.

“If the Monju project falls through, there is no doubt that calls for reviewing the energy policy will grow louder,” Ban said.

Read the full Article at:


UCOR’s mid-2015 waste problem

January 20, 2016

As noted in UCOR’smostly flattering performance review for the final half of FY 2015, there was a waste problem that shut down waste shipments from Oak Ridge to the Nevada National Security Site for about a month.

Asked for more detailed information, Mike Koentop of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management said URS-CH2M Oak Ridge had “experienced some deficiencies” in its waste transportation program, the most serious of which caused the Oak Ridge cleanup contractor to suspend off-site shipments.

In an email response, Koentop said:

“More specifically, during a June assessment of the UCOR Transportation Program, the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management identified two containers on one shipment that were scheduled to be shipped as DOT Non-Regulated, when they should have been classified as Radioactive Material Class 7 Surface Contaminated Objects (SCO)-I.

“The shipment information was corrected and the shipment was dispatched compliantly.”

He added:

“UCOR took immediate action and suspended all off-site shipments until they could review their procedures and understand why the shipment was misclassified.  UCOR reviewed all the paperwork from past shipments, and discovered two additional shipments where the incorrect Proper Shipping Name was selected.  UCOR updated its procedures and instituted more rigorous internal oversight to ensure all offsite shipments are properly classified.

” In total, off-site shipments were suspended for approximately 4 weeks.”


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Hazards outpace funding for old nuke facilities

January 21, 2016

The Alpha-5 building at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is a notorious example of a big problem facing the U.S. Department of Energy.

Old nuclear facilities have outlived their usefulness, requiring their shutdown without the money available to clean them up or, in some cases, to keep them from falling apart and spreading their contamination.

Alpha-5, an original part of the World War II Manhattan Project, has been shut down for a more than decade, and it’s begging for attention.

The 613,000-square-foot building was used for multiple missions during the Cold War, and it’s thoroughly contaminated with uranium, mercury, beryllium and other hazards that have been made worse by the intrusion of water from an old and failing roof.

The basement is a swamp. About 2 million gallons of water have collected there, allowing toxic contaminants to mingle directly with the groundwater. And heavy moisture inside Alpha-5 has caused mold to grow like crazy, forcing the use of a respirator by anyone who ventures inside.

DOE, of course, has a long list of cleanup projects under way that pose difficult challenges and cost a ton of money.

But the problem posed by Alpha-5 and other so-called “excess facilities” is they’re not yet in the cleanup queue. In many cases there are no definitive plans for what’s known in the cleanup world as D&D — deactivation and decommissioning — or the funds to address their risks.

“When it comes to excess facilities, the first thing to keep in mind is we’re talking about a tremendous number of facilities,” Mark Whitney, DOE’s deputy assistant secretary for environmental management, said a conference held last month in Knoxville.

Whitney said the agency’s contractors have demolished about 2,500 old and dirty facilities at DOE sites around the country, including Oak Ridge. That’s about half of what’s planned, but there’s another 1,000 excess facilities yet to be added to the list, he said.

“At times, the list seems never ending,” Whitney said, “but measurable progress is being made.”
A number of reports, including one last year by DOE’s Office of Inspector General, have characterized Alpha-5 as the “worst of the worst.”

Asked if the facility is deserving of its reputation, Y-12’s Ken Harrawood said, “I think it probably is.”

Harrawood declined to give an estimate of what it’ll cost to clean up and tear down the huge building.

“We’re working on an estimate, but it’s a pretty rough estimate at this time,” he said, expressing concern that establishing a price tag might affect future bids if a subcontract to do the work is put out for bids.

The Alpha-5 situation is particularly vexing because the Department of Energy spent about $100 million of its Recovery Act funding on a project in 2011 that removed tons of surplus materials and unneeded equipment from the big building. About 5,430 containers of waste materials were sent to Nevada for disposal, and the project was supposed to be a giant step toward the eventual cleanup and demolition.

The roof failures that followed created a whole new suite of water-borne problems — although a number of steps have been taken, including some roof repairs, to keep matters from being even worse than they are.

Alpha-5 doesn’t pose as many radioactive hazards as some of DOE’s other big-time demolition projects, such as the Rocky Flats plutonium facility in Colorado or the K-25 uranium-enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, Harrawood said.

But the cleanup will be complicated by the fact that Alpha-5 is located adjacent to active production facilities at Y-12, he said.

The location could limit the access of cleanup workers or pose potential hazards to Y-12 workers not engaged in cleanup activities.

Harrawood indicated Consolidated Nuclear Security — the government’s managing contractor at Y-12 — may undertake a near-term project to drain the water in Alpha-5’s basement.
He said contractor officials believe that Y-12 has the on-site capabilities at the Central Mercury Treatment Facility to treat the polluted water. An evaluation is in the works.

“We’re going to do some work this year to get some pumps and agitate water to get a representative sample,” he said.

If the water meets the acceptance criteria for the existing treatment facility, then the Y-12 contractor may proceed with the project, Harrawood said. The treatment facility has enough capacity to handle the extra work, but the concern is the water may have too much brine for the treatment systems.

Jeff Smith, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s deputy lab director for operations, was co-chair of a Department of Energy working group convened last year to look at the problem with excess facilities at DOE sites around the country.

Smith said the group concluded that the problem was not being addressed by any of the agency’s current environmental management programs.

“If you don’t start working on it, it’s going to get more and more costly and begin to impact existing missions because . . . some of these facilities are dispersed among production facilities,” Smith said.

Smith said the working group stated its case to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and he said there’s reason to believe that DOE will try to include about $100 million in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Even if that’s approved, it won’t solve a multibillion-dollar problem, but Smith said it would be a start.

ORNL has inactive nuclear facilities awaiting cleanup attention on its campus, and the lab also has responsibility for several other facilities — such as the old Mouse House and biology research complex — that are physically located at Y-12.

The biology complex hasn’t been used for many years, and it’s literally falling apart, with pieces of the exterior occasionally sliding to the ground. “It’s as close to being knocked down as you can get,” Smith said.

Beta-3, another World War II-era building at Y-12, will require a more delicate touch because it houses equipment that will become part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
Cleanup will have to take place selectively inside the big building.

DOE’s environmental management program in Oak Ridge received more money than expected for Fiscal Year 2016, and it appears that some of the $473.8 million may be used to address problems at excess facilities.

“There is funding available that allows us to identify additional opportunities in the EM program where we can execute projects that will reduce risks and put some of the higher-risk facilities on the Oak Ridge reservation in a safer and more stable condition,” Mike Koentop, executive officer of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge.

Chris Thompson, who oversees DOE cleanup activities for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the state will work closely with DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set priorities. She said the state has asked for more information on DOE’s plans for deactivating buildings and is considering additional milestones to ensure timely cleanup.

Thompson said DOE should be able to complete its Oak Ridge cleanup, including the excess facilities, by 2046 if it receives annual cleanup funding of about $420 million.

Aerial view of the Alpha-5 building at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Below is an interior shot at Y-12.


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