IEER’s Memo to HEAL Utah (February 16, 2010), with Attachments | Radioactive Waste Profile Record for DU shipped to Utah from DOE’s Savannah River Site | Press Release (March 3, 2010) & HEAL Utah’s Letter to DOE Secretary Chu (March 3, 2010) | NRC’s Low-Level Waste Classification Rule


To: Vanessa Pierce, Executive Director, HEAL Utah
From: Arjun Makhijani
Subject: Savannah River Site Depleted Uranium Shipments to Utah
Date: February 16, 2010

You have asked me to analyze whether the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) past and proposed disposal of Depleted Uranium (DU) from the Savannah River Site (SRS) at EnergySolutions’ low level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal facility in Clive, Utah, conform to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal rule and to the Energy Solutions’ Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC). These are shipments of “Recycled DU,” that is, DU that has been irradiated and therefore has traces of fission products as well as transuranic radionuclides such as various plutonium isotopes. [1]

As summarized below, I have concluded that neither the quantity nor the isotopic composition of the Recycled DU from the SRS meets the regulatory requirements for disposal as LLRW at the EnergySolutions site. My conclusions are summarized below. The bases for my conclusions are discussed in Attachment A (which presents my analysis of the DU disposal issue) and Attachment B (which focuses on the technetium-99 (Tc-99) concentrations in the waste drums and was prepared by Dr. Harry Chmelynski, who is a statistician).

As discussed in more detail in Attachments A and B, I have concluded that:

1. The disposal of such large amounts of DU as the DOE proposes to dispose of at the EnergySolutions site is not authorized by the NRC regulations that form the basis for the State of Utah’s own regulatory program, nor has it been subjected to the required environmental analysis. Even a very expansive view of the history of the regulation would not allow concentrations of uranium-238 higher than 50 nanocuries per cubic centimeter (cc) or a total amount of uranium-238 in excess of 17 curies (about 51 metric tons). The total number of curies of uranium in the 33,000 DU drums at SRS is 300 times (or more) greater than the maximum amount arguably envisioned under the low-level waste rule. The concentration is more than an order of magnitude greater than 50 nanocuries per cc. As you know, the NRC acknowledges that large amounts of DU were not covered by the low-level waste rule and is currently engaged in a process of determining what kinds of restrictions are appropriate for large amounts of depleted uranium. This rulemaking, however, has not been completed.

2. Disposal of recycled DU in any amount as Class A waste is not permitted. This is because classification as Class A waste under 10 CFR 61.55(a)(6) requires that the waste not contain any of the radionuclides listed in Tables 1 or 2 of LLRW disposal rule. In fact, the recycled DU from SRS that is proposed to be disposed of as Class A waste at the Clive, Utah, site contains radionuclides from both Table 1 and Table 2, including plutonium isotopes, iodone-129, technetium-99, strontium-90, and cesium-137. [2] As a result, recycled DU from SRS does not meet the regulatory definition of Class A waste, and disposal of recycled DU as Class A waste in any amount at any concentration is not permitted under federal low-level waste regulations. Therefore, the proposed disposal of recycled DU at the EnergySolutions site violates the low-level waste rule, independent of arguments related to the quantity of uranium involved.

3. Quite apart from the uranium content of the SRS waste, it is virtually certain that the technetium-99 content of many of the drums exceeds the Class A limit of 0.3 curies per cubic meter. Since only 33 samples were taken from 33,000 drums of recycled DU and the drums are not segregated between those meeting the Class A limit for Tc-99 and those above it, none of the drums can be disposed of as Class A waste for this reason alone. The DOE’s claim that Class A limits for Table 1 and 2 radionuclides are met is based on a misleading interpretation of even the few samples that were taken. A properly conducted statistical analysis shows that it is more than 99 percent likely that a large number of drums would violate the Class A limit of 0.3 curies per cubic meter for Tc-99. Such an analysis is presented in Attachment B.

In sum, there are three different ways in which the recycled DU from SRS is not permitted to be disposed of as Class A waste at the Clive, Utah site.

In view of the three findings above and the past disposal of recycled depleted uranium at the EnergySolutions site, I have also concluded that neither the Utah Division of Radiation Control nor the NRC has been exercising due oversight over the low-level waste disposal process. Finally, it should be noted that the analysis in this report shows that the DOE has also not respected federal low-level waste rules in the process of sending its wastes to a commercial site covered by NRC regulations. Finally, if recycled uranium, whether depleted or not, has been disposed of at the EnergySolutions facility in Utah in the past, this too would violate the low-level waste regulation. This is a matter that should be carefully investigated by the State of Utah and by the NRC.

Continue to full Memo with Attachments


  1. Recycled DU is distinct isotopically from “Virgin DU,” which is DU that has been generated by the enrichment of uranium ore that has not been irradiated. The isotopic composition of Virgin DU consists of natural uranium isotopes and the radionuclides in their decay chains, none of which are in Tables 1 or 2 of 10 CFR 61.55(a). Recycled DU generally contains radionuclides listed in Table 1 or Table 2 or both; this is the case with the SRS recycled DU under consideration here. The distinction is central to my conclusion in paragraph 2 below but immaterial for my conclusion in paragraphs 1 and 3. ↩ Return
  2. Profile Record 2009 (EnergySolutions, Radioactive Waste Profile Record, EPA ID# SC1890008989, Waste Stream ID-9021-33. Waste Stream Name SRS DUO, Rev. 0, 11/16/2008, Shipped on December 8, 2009) and an attachment to the Profile Record 2009: Parkinson 2002 (K.S. Parkinson, Depleted Uranium Oxide Sampling Results, Interoffice Memorandum, to S. A. Williams and D.L. McWhorter, (NMM-ETS-2002-00184, Revision 0, Tracking number: 100049, D/A: DOE/ADM 17-17.a), Westinghouse Savannah River Company, Savannah River Site, November 4, 2002). ↩ Return