Blended waste is an industry proposal to blend more concentrated radioactive waste with less concentrated radioactive waste. EnergySolutions is seeking federal and state approval to allow this option so it can ultimately dispose of waste that meets the Class A limit requirements of its Utah radioactive material license.
On October 13, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission revised its position that provides the states an opportunity to pursue rule-making that would allow large-scale blending. The NRC directed staff to develop a revised Branch Technical Position regarding the circumstances under which large scale blending is acceptable. Until such time, licensing actions received by NRC or Agreement States for large scale commercial blending facilities should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- On April 13, 2010, the Utah Radiation Control Board adopted a position paper on waste blending, noting that it is opposed to waste blending when the intent is to alter the waste classification for the purposes of disposal site access.
- On July 27, 2011, the Utah Radiation Control Board Executive Secretary issued a memo on classifying blended uranium waste as natural uranium (U-Nat).
The issue of blending higher concentrated low-level radioactive waste (Class B and C waste) with lower concentration waste (Class A) waste has come to the forefront because of lack of disposal access for 36 states with Class B and C radioactive waste. One of the problematic low-level waste streams is ion exchange resins generated at commercial nuclear power plants throughout the United States. The Nuclear Energy Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute have conducted studies on blending during the previous two years. These resins, small beads of plastic, remove radioactive material from waters used for cooling nuclear reactors. Depending on how often the resins are removed and replaced, they can be the higher classification B and C low-level wastes. NRC estimates that power plants throughout the United States generate roughly 85,000 cubic feet of resins annually. Ninety percent of the current annual resin production is Class A waste.
A proposal to blend ion-exchange resins from power plants at EnergySolutions Bear Creek Facility in Tennessee is under evaluation by the Tennessee Division of Radiological Health. Under this effort, Class B and C resins would be downblended to Class A waste and eventually shipped to the Clive facility for disposal.
Currently NRC only has guidance to address the blending of low-level radioactive waste. Blending of waste typically occurs during cleanup of a site where lower and higher concentrations of waste are blended into a homogeneous final form. Blending of clean soil and concentrated waste,for purposes of dilution to change waste classification, is not allowed under the current NRC guidance. Blended materials of either Class A, B, or C waste require disposal at a licensed low-level waste facility.
On October 8, 2009 the NRC Commission directed the NRC staff to make recommendations on blending of low-level waste. Commissioner Jaczko indicated that the NRC has received several inquiries from stakeholders asking the NRC to clarify the agency’s position on blending and what is acceptable under NRC regulations and guidance, especially with respect to blending that result in a change in classification of the waste. Commissioner Jaczko indicated a certainty that there are policy issues that will need to be considered by the Commission.
Commissioner Jaczko indicated that the NRC staff should specifically consider:
- issues relating to intentional changes in waste classification due to blending, including safety, security, and policy considerations;
- protection of the public, an inadvertent intruder, and the environment;
- mathematical concentration averaging and homogeneous physical mixing;
- practical considerations in operating a waste treatment facility, disposal facility, or other facilities, including the appropriate point at which waste should be classified; and,
- recommendations for revisions, if necessary, to existing regulations, requirements, guidance, or oversight relating to blending of low-level radioactive waste.