Construction begins on TRU Waste facility

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Lab: Building will help LANL get waste off the Hill

By The Staff

Construction has begun on a new facility that will help Los Alamos National Laboratory accelerate the shipment of transuranic (TRU) waste stored in large boxes at Technical Area 54, Area G.

The new facility will allow the Lab to repackage boxes as large as 25 feet long that contain TRU waste from as long ago as the 1970s. Mostly equipment stored in fiberglass reinforced boxes, the waste must be repackaged into containers that meet stringent requirements before it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad for permanent disposal.

“This facility will help us accelerate shipment of TRU waste,” said Waste Program and Services Project Director Andy Baumer. “Since the majority of our TRU waste inventory that is in large boxes can be processed in this facility, it’s going to be our workhorse.”

The facility, meanwhile, will feature a number of safeguards, including fire protection and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering. Construction is scheduled for completion in March 2012.

Before WIPP opened in 1999, waste was packaged and stored at Area G. In order to close Technical Area 54, where Area G is located, the lab must ship the stored waste to WIPP.

Cleanup of the lab’s TRU waste was the focus of meetings held by EM, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that recently resulted in the Los Alamos National Laboratory Framework Agreement: Realignment of Environmental Priorities.

Announced in January, the agreement came several months after the Las Conchas Fire, which forced closure of the lab for several days and brought renewed attention to the need to remove Area G’s TRU waste containers. The agreement calls for the shipment of 3,706 cubic meters of TRU waste from the Lab to WIPP by June 30, 2014.

NMED and DOE agreed that cleanup schedules in the New Mexico Order on Consent, which has guided cleanup since 2005, needed another look in order to achieve desired cleanup at Area G. The agencies had a number of significant factors to consider: public concern over the risk the fire posed to the above-ground waste at Area G, existing Consent Order milestones and available funding.

“This has been a great demonstration of NNSA, EM and NMED working together to get to this point and the state of New Mexico will be the beneficiary” said Los Alamos Site Office Manager Kevin Smith.

TRU waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil and other items contaminated with radioactive elements, such as plutonium. Each of these man-made elements has an atomic number greater than uranium, so they are labeled transuranic, for “beyond uranium” on the periodic table of elements.

The Lab’s TRU Waste Program has shipped record numbers of waste to WIPP the past three years. During the past year, 171 shipments — more than 2,500 containers — of TRU waste were shipped safely to WIPP.

Lab officials announced they were starting the “LANL 3,706 Transuranic Waste Campaign” last month during a meeting with the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board in Pojoaque.

A cubic meter is a unit of measurement for volume. The 3,706 cubic meters translates to roughly 130,876.154 cubic feet.