US National Labs recycle radioactive source

18 August 2021

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) reported on 10 August that collaboration between National Laboratories had resulted in the reuse of a radioactive source. An EM programme at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site has taken the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” concept to the next level by sending a legacy radioactive source to another DOE site for reuse, it said.

EM INL Site clean-up contractor Fluor Idaho had identified a small neutron-emitting, plutonium-beryllium source from a waste inventory at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project. Workers moved the material to a shielded cell at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Centre (INTEC) for inspection, characterisation, sizing, and repackaging.

However, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington state had expressed an interest in the source. “Rather than package it up for eventual disposal. we placed it in a special-form capsule, a pipe-overpack container, and then a 55-gallon drum,” Fluor Idaho Waste Management Engineer John Naughton said. “It was shipped to PNNL safely and compliantly.”

An INTEC contractor had acquired the source in the 1960s for used nuclear fuel reprocessing operations to test a prototype instrument for measuring the concentration of fissile material in nuclear fuel reprocessing plant streams. The source had been placed in storage in 1977, and in 1984, it was sent to the Radioactive Waste Management Complex at the INL Site for disposal. Waste management personnel identified it by cross-referencing it to its assigned product number.

The source is spherical in shape and had a long handle or rod affixed to it that was removed to fit the source in the specially designed capsule.

“PNNL wanted to use the source in their calibration laboratory,” said Irene Joo, remote-handled transuranic waste manager for Fluor Idaho. “Shipping it to them saves us the expense of keeping it here for several more years, monitoring it periodically, repackaging it, and shipping it for permanent disposal.” PNNL’s?Radiological Exposures and Metrology Laboratory specialises in using accredited radiation fields for materials research, instrument testing, and dosimeter proficiency. This new source augments PNNL’s extensive suite of sealed sources and radiation generators.?The long?half-life of this source will enable a low dose irradiation capability for many decades.

The Off-Site Source Recovery Programme (OSRP) helped package the source in the special-form capsule for shipment to PNNL. OSRP is a National Nuclear Security Administration-sponsored programme that identifies and removes excess, unwanted, or disused radioactive sealed sources that pose a potential risk to national security, health, and safety. Since 1997, OSRP has recovered nearly 45,000 sources from over 1,500 sites and has safely secured them. OSRP is located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“There was great collaboration between three national laboratories,” Naughton said. “Where the source wasn’t being used in Idaho, it will get reused in Washington, which is a great practice with respect to usable radiological materials.”

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