BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Department of Energy officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory responded Wednesday to concerns raised earlier this week about the disposition of unirradiated fuel rods currently stored at the Plutonium Facility PF-4 at Technical Area 55.
The unirradiated fuel rods and other materials were fabricated in support of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility that was supposed to be built at the DOE’s Savannah River Site but was never completed. The National Nuclear Security Administration is reconsidering repackaging the fuel rods for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad for disposal. Disposal of the fuel rods is one of the actions announced by NNSA to taken for implementation of the proposed expansion of pit production at LANL.
An NNSA spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that TA-55 is currently storing the remnants of unused lead test assembly fuel rods which contain a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxide.
“This material is not irradiated spent fuel and would be eligible for disposal at WIPP as transuranic wastes. The storage of these materials are presently in Type B shipping containers that were used when the material was returned from France in 2005 and intended for use in the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site. With termination of MFFF, there is little need to retain the materials and they are taking up space in PF-4,” she said in an email. “The current plan is to have Los Alamos cut the mixed oxide fuel rods and fuel rods containing archive and scrap materials from mixed oxide fuel lead assembly fabrication into smaller pieces, package as waste, and ship to WIPP as permitted under the WIPP Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC). The plutonium comprises 26.4 kilograms.”
Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group told the Los Alamos Reporter Wednesday that if the waste meets the WIPP waste acceptance criteria, as apparently it will, WIPP is the right place for it.
“There are no safety, security, or environmental issues with this waste beyond those already being safely addressed. WIPP’s quality control was made more stringent after the 2014 explosion; all that’s needed in this case – as for every other drum sent to WIPP – is to meet those criteria,” Mello said. “WIPP’s purpose is to dispose of transuranic waste safely and permanently, a very important mission. We need to use WIPP, as safely and efficiently as possible, without further bureaucratic hurdles that add no value.”
During the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board virtual meeting Wednesday afternoon, DOE Environmental Management Field Office Manager Kirk Lachman said there are no spent fuel rods at LANL.
“I don’t know what happened and how people read that in. It’s on the NNSA side – I know it’s one big DOE family – there are mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium at PF4. They have not been burned in a reactor or that sort of thing. The mixed oxide was for a test for another organization that never occurred,” Lachman said. “So nothing is being sent to WIPP that doesn’t meet the WIPP WAC. There’s no place on the site that we’re allowed to store spent nuclear fuel that I’m aware of or that (NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager) Mike Weis is aware of, so that would be news to us. Somehow that was misinterpreted out of the (National Environmental Policy Act) documentation for the pit production product.”