OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) recently completed installing vents and sample ports in the final drums of legacy transuranic waste stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This decade-long effort ensures the drums do not contain any hazardous gases that could cause rapid combustion.
The closed, explosion-proof, high-efficiency particulate air-ventilated unit where the drums were vented was capable of withstanding a combustion event while keeping workers and the nation’s largest multi-program national laboratory safe.
“Venting and sampling these drums is an essential part of the waste disposal process,” ORNL Portfolio Federal Project Director Bill McMillan said. “Now that we can ensure the safety of each drum, they are ready for transport to the Transuranic Waste Processing Center (TWPC) for processing and subsequent shipment to a permanent disposal facility away from Oak Ridge.”
Workers placed the drums in the reinforced unit and installed vents and sample ports remotely. The ports allowed staff to determine if hydrogen existed in the drums. If high levels were detected, crews moved those drums to a hydrogen diffusion area for monitoring until the levels naturally reached safe limits.
Past ORNL operations generated a large volume of transuranic waste over the decades. Workers placed the waste in containers and stored them in underground vaults and warehouses awaiting eventual disposition. While newly generated waste is placed in vented containers, the legacy containers were designed differently, prompting the installation of drum vents and sample ports.
More than 4,000 containers have gone through the venting process in Oak Ridge since 2005. Only 67 containers remained to install vents in the most recent campaign. OREM and its cleanup contractor, URS | CH2M Oak Ridge, retrieved them from an underground storage vault last fall.
Much of the transuranic waste, which is contaminated with elements heavier than uranium, is composed of items such as beakers, gloves, and other lab equipment.
After crews process the drums at the TWPC, they will eventually be transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico for final disposal.