A new enclosure for processing radioactive casks has put Oak Ridge on a path to finishing cleanup work two years ahead of schedule, saving nearly $20 million. | Photo courtesy of the Office of Environmental Management.
The Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management is on a path to success with a project at Oak Ridge, saving taxpayers almost $20 million.
A new enclosure for processing radioactive casks has put Oak Ridge on a path to finishing cleanup work two years ahead of schedule, thus saving nearly $20 million. This facility, the Cask Processing Enclosure (CPE), is at the Transuranic Waste Processing Center, which is part of vital cleanup operations at the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.
This is a significant achievement for the site because remote-handled waste — which is processed at the center — presents greater risk due to its higher levels of radioactivity. It also requires more time to process. The transuranic waste at the center has two designations. The first is contact-handled, which has lower radioactivity and can be manually sorted and repackaged by workers. The second is remote-handled, which has higher radioactivity and is processed in hot cells by employee-controlled manipulators. Generally, transuranic waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with radioactive elements having atomic numbers greater than that of uranium, mostly plutonium.
The Center’s hot cells have been processing remote-handled waste since 2008, but since the Cask Processing Enclosure opened in July, processing rates are expected to double because of the facility’s added processing capability.
The enclosure helps reduce the risk of missing waste processing milestones. While the hot cells will undergo upgrades starting in February, the enclosure will allow remote-handled waste processing to continue despite the hot cell outage. Oak Ridge is using this time to perform substantial upgrades to the hot cells which will increase efficiency and allow the site to process higher-level remote-handled waste.
In addition, the Center is ahead of schedule in its contact-handled waste processing. The facility reached the 50 percent processing milestone in February 2012 — 20 months ahead of schedule — and Oak Ridge projects to complete contact-handled waste processing by September 2014. To date, the center has processed approximately 87 percent of the original 1,500 cubic meters of contact-handled inventory and 38 percent of the 550 cubic meters of remote-handled inventory.
The center is a vital component of Oak Ridge’s Office of Environmental Management cleanup plan. The facility is removing harmful waste, conducting operations ahead of schedule and preparing to address the next phase of the site’s cleanup needs.