CARLSBAD — The first shipments of nuclear waste in five years were sent to from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s reopened loading facility this month to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and was successfully delivered a few days later.
Since WIPP reopened in 2017, after a 2014 accidental radiological release that was linked to LANL, the Laboratory sent a small amount of shipments to WIPP, but the loading facility’s restart was expected to increase shipment in the coming months.
Los Alamos is the nation’s largest producer of transuranic waste, which is disposed of at WIPP in its underground salt mine.
The successful shipment followed the reopening of LANL’s Radioactive Assay Nondestructive Test facility in February.
The facility serves as an indoor TRU waste loading asset for LANL, and increases the Laboratory’s TRU waste shipping capacity to address its waste backlog.
Before the reopening of RANT, TRU waste shipments were stored in an outdoor area, which “severely limited” operations due to weather and loading factors, according to a LANL news release.
“Getting the RANT facility back in service and successfully moving TRU waste to WIPP will add to our operational and safety margins and provide a better level of efficiency as we continue to improve our waste operations,” said Kelly Beierschmitt, deputy laboratory director for operations at LANL.
The amount of generated TRU waste increased, read the release, amid growing plutonium production.
TRU waste consists of gloves, booting, cleaning materials and other general waste products contaminated during nuclear operations, read the release.
The shipment was comprised of 42 drums holding 55 gallons of TRU waste.
LANL’s RANT facility demonstrated readiness in January and was authorized for startup operations on Feb. 28.
Operations were approved after LANL’s shipments were halted in May 2014 when officials raised questions about the facility’s ability to withstand an earthquake.
A new low Material at Risk operational strategy was developed, ensuring materials were protected against seismic activity, the release read.
The strategy was approved in December 2018 by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“As the Nation’s Plutonium Center of Excellence Los Alamos operates the most modern, fully operational, full capability plutonium science and manufacturing facility in the US,” read the release.