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EM Plan Accelerates Uranium-233 Disposal, Saves Taxpayers Half Billion Dollars

August 1, 2012 - 12:00pm

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For more than 50 years, the uranium-233 (U-233) supply has been stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Building 3019. The facility, located near the center of the ORNL campus, is owned by EM and one of the nation’s few repositories for U-233 and other special nuclear materials dating back to the Manhattan Project.

For more than 50 years, the uranium-233 (U-233) supply has been stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Building 3019. The facility, located near the center of the ORNL campus, is owned by EM and one of the nation’s few repositories for U-233 and other special nuclear materials dating back to the Manhattan Project.

Truck and Employees

Truck and Employees

For more than 50 years, the uranium-233 (U-233) supply has been stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Building 3019. The facility, located near the center of the ORNL campus, is owned by EM and one of the nation’s few repositories for U-233 and other special nuclear materials dating back to the Manhattan Project.
Truck and Employees

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – EM is moving forward with a new plan to safely dispose of a large supply of a special nuclear material that cuts the project’s duration by a decade and saves taxpayers more than a half billion dollars when compared to a previous approach for the work.

For more than 50 years, the uranium-233 (U-233) supply has been stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Building 3019. The facility, located near the center of the ORNL campus, is owned by EM and one of the nation’s few repositories for U-233 and other special nuclear materials dating back to the Manhattan Project.

The EM project is ultimately responsible for the disposition of 450 kilograms of this fissile material, which is mixed with nearly 2 metric tons of total uranium and stored in approximately 1,100 canisters. The previous approach called for retrofitting the 1940s vintage facility for dissolution and downblending of the inventory, and constructing a new annex adjacent to Building 3019 where the downblended material would be solidified and packaged for disposal.

However, design challenges and escalating costs prompted Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman to commission a group of experts from across the DOE complex to examine alternatives to that approach to the project. The group included experts in nuclear safety, security, waste management, nuclear facility operations and project administration, with key representatives from DOE headquarters, the Nevada National Security Site, ORNL, Oak Ridge Transuranic Waste Processing Center, Idaho National Laboratory, Savannah River Site and Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

The U-233 Alternatives Analysis team developed an alternative approach to U-233 disposition that eliminated the need for construction of the annex. The new approach calls for direct disposition — without processing — of approximately half the inventory by either transferring valuable components to other DOE programs for beneficial reuse or directly disposing of it as waste.

"As a part of this new, more efficient approach, we are first conducting a direct disposition campaign for the U-233 inventory," said Sue Cange, deputy manager for the Oak Ridge Office of EM. "We successfully completed one round of programmatic transfers in June, and we will begin shipments of a second major inventory component by April. In between we will transfer a small inventory of material to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for use in analytical measurements."

The first phase of the direct disposition campaign involved transferring a valuable inventory of Zero Power Reactor (ZPR) plates to NNSA for future criticality experimentation and training. A smaller inventory of material will be transferred to NNSA after qualification in facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) at the end of August. When those programmatic transfers are completed, a second inventory component called Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project (CEUSP) material will be sent offsite for disposal, pending final acceptance of the waste form for disposal.

At the conclusion of the direct disposition campaign, the remaining U-233 inventory will be processed in an existing hot cell facility located near Building 3019 at ORNL. That facility, Building 2026, which is currently owned by the Office of Science but is no longer needed to support scientific research, can be used by EM for processing the second half of the excess U-233 for disposition.

"Building 2026 is ideally suited for processing the inventory of material that is not eligible for direct disposition," said UT-Battelle Isotope Production Manager John W. Krueger, who served as federal project director for the U-233 disposition project for two years until this past July. "We need to clean out and prepare the hot cell facility for our intended use, but the cost of doing that is dramatically less than retrofitting Building 3019 and construction of an annex."

Under the new approach, the project is scheduled for completion in 2018 with an estimated life-cycle cost of approximately $511 million. Had DOE continued the previous approach, the project could have cost as much as $1.1 billion, with a completion date of 2029. Both estimates assume a $40 million annual budget, which is the anticipated level of funding going forward.

"This is an example of a project team being challenged to think outside the box to find a more efficient and cost effective plan to complete a complex project, and everyone involved answered the call," Cange said. "It required involvement from EM, the Office of Science, NNSA, a number of contractors, and countless subject-matter experts from a variety of fields. Everyone has worked together to develop an approach that is good for the Department and for the taxpayers who count on us to spend money wisely."

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