The Nation’s largest volume of nuclear waste sits in 177 million-gallon-or-so tanks up at the Hanford Site in Washington State. 57 million gallons of what was once mostly high-level nuclear waste are in these tanks. 149 of them are older single shelled tanks, and 28 of them are newer double-shelled tanks.
But today much of this waste is lower level making disposal much easier, quicker and cheaper, using grouting methods we long ago developed to dispose of this type of waste, and shipping it to facilities we’ve built and licensed to take this waste.
Like we do with a lot of nuclear waste around the country.
Since it’s what we do commercially, it’s a lot cheaper, safer and easier than what we usually do at Hanford. Dry it, stabilize it and package it in containers designed for radioactive waste and approved by the Department of Transportation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This is especially true for the waste in the 28 double-shelled tanks. Much of this waste is low activity waste, or LAW. It’s not very radioactive and it would be crazy to treat it like it’s really hot. Because it would be absurdly costly to do so. And would add decades of time to the project. And could even put some workers in harm’s way.
The Department of Energy has been conducting a three phase test on how to do this, called the Test Bed Initiative. Testing not just the technical stuff, we know that already, but the legal and regulatory stuff which is a lot harder.