Cementing radioactive wastes could save billions | Brunell

Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy has funded construction of a $17 billion project to encase radioactive wastes in solid glass logs. It is scheduled to start operations in 2022 and treat more than 56 million gallons of hazardous liquids which are stored in tanks on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

It is called vitrification, a process by which the State of Washington and federal government agreed in 1989. It is complicated, time consuming and very costly.

To speed up treatment and reduce costs, the federal government is testing a procedure at Hanford to harden the wastes with a concrete grouting. The state’s Department. of Ecology sees funding of grouting as a diversion of funds and wants Congress to direct its appropriations solely toward vitrification.

According to a recent article in the Tri-Cities Herald, the first phase of the demonstration project, grouting three gallons of waste held in Hanford’s underground tanks was successfully completed last December. The second phase calls for treating 2,000 gallons of tank waste and sending it to the Texas repository if Congress authorizes an additional $15 million.

The grouting demonstration project could free up additional space in double-shell tanks. The waste in 149 leak-prone, single-shell tanks is being emptied into 27 double-shell tanks, which are nearing capacity, the Herald reports.

Grouting has been used at Savannah River’s nuclear site in South Carolina. Unlike Washington state, South Carolina allowed grouting, and since then 4 million gallons of Savannah River waste have been encased in concrete and safely stored.

The cost savings to taxpayers are huge. It estimated that grouting low-level radioactive waste at the Savannah River Site costs $153 per gallon, while the average cost of vitrifying low activity radioactive waste at Hanford is projected to be nearly $1,100 per gallon.

Washington State officials, in arguing for vitrification, point out Hanford poses a different set of problems than Savannah River. It has 56 million gallons of mixed radioactive and hazardous chemical waste which must be separated and treated.

The low-level vitrified nuclear waste is to be kept in water-tight concrete lined landfill compartments at Hanford. The high-level radioactive glass logs are scheduled to be shipped to Nevada.

The question is can some of the low-level wastes be treated more quickly and less costly by grouting? The goal is to keep those dangerous substances from leaking into the underground aquifer and nearby Columbia River.

With increasing pressures on federal funding, the U.S. Government Accountability Office is looking at alternative ways to pay for Hanford cleanup.

The federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2019 is projected to be $985 billion and our national debt is over $21 trillion and growing. Next year the U.S. government is spending $4.407 trillion, yet tax collections are pegged at $3.422 trillion.

A 2017 GAO report said that its expert panel had determined that grouting – mixing the waste into a concrete-like substance – would be less expensive than vitrifying some of the excess low-activity radioactive waste and allow the waste to be treated sooner.

Earlier assumptions about grout no longer appear to be accurate, particularly considering the dry climate of Hanford and that the disposal site for the waste at Hanford would be engineered to keep precipitation from infiltrating and leaching any waste from the disposal site, the GAO report said.

“One (GAO) expert said that if waste did leach from the landfill, it would take 2,000 years for it to enter the groundwater and then it would be highly diluted,” Herald reporter Annette Cary wrote.

Grouting appears to be a safe alternative which is less costly and more quickly accomplished. It is worthy of additional funding.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kentreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
America needs ‘all of the above’ energy approach | Brunell

In 2023, one of the most significant shifts America needs is to… Continue reading

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Welcome to the big show, Dori | Shiers

From cartoonist Frank Shiers: You probably know that I worked at KIRO… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.
‘I must have driven through a barn’ and other stories of grace | Whale’s Tales

My brother, Jack, and I were jabbering on Christmas Eve about all… Continue reading

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.
Let’s say our 8 billionth person was born in South King County | Livingston

The United Nations announced Nov. 8 that the world had just welcomed… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.
When old age asks the new year for a dance | Whale’s Tales

One of the important lessons the dawning of each new year has… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
Wreaths honor veterans at cemeteries across America | Brunell

The holiday season is an especially difficult time for anyone grieving lost… Continue reading

Hilde at her 103rd birthday party. Photo by Alex Bruell.
Lessons from Hilde, who fled Nazi Germany for a better life

Here’s a few things my great-aunt would have liked you to know.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
Highs and lows of brick-and-mortar holiday shopping | Brunell

The good news is, despite higher prices, inflation and safety concerns, more… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.
Thanksgiving and the Whale kitchen’s eternal warmth | Whale’s Tales

Looking today at the North Auburn home in which I grew up… Continue reading

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.
The ‘ignoranting’ of Americans in the age of false narratives | Whale’s Tales

Many sweeping generalizations stalk our land today, making no distinctions between diverse… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
Honoring fallen heroes goes beyond lowering flags to half-mast | Brunell

Lowering our flags to half-staff is a solemn act that recognizes our… Continue reading