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ORAU provides independent verification for multiple DOE environmental cleanup initiatives

Efforts help support DOE’s mission to complete the safe cleanup of the environmental contamination

ORAU technician performing an environmental survey

In FY12, ORAU health physicists supported independent verification activities for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in Washington State; the West Valley Reprocessing Plant, located in New York State, and on the Oak Ridge Reservation in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

After nearly five decades of nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been committed to the long-term cleanup of many of its laboratories, research centers and other areas impacted by environmental contamination. In order to ensure that these sites, facilities and equipment have been decontaminated or decommissioned according to radiological industry-wide standards, the DOE Office of Environmental Management has sought ORAU’s expertise in independent verification services supporting several, ongoing initiatives.

Hanford Reach National Monument
Washington State’s Hanford Reach National Monument was established through a presidential decree in June 2000 to preserve the area’s bountiful wildlife along the Columbia River, as well as the area’s historical artifacts, some of which dated as far back as 10,000 years. Much of the land is situated within DOE’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Plans for the monument included the transfer of three specific land parcels—Fitzner/Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve Unit, McGee Ranch-Riverlands Unit and the North Slope Unit—to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This effort required a historical site assessment to determine whether the 300 square miles of land had been impacted by site operations, as well as surveys and samplings of suspect areas.

To help with this ambitious mission, DOE tasked ORAU with verifying whether the cleanup contractor’s radiological clearance process complied with industry guidance. ORAU’s findings revealed several data gaps in the contractor’s process due to limited quantitative and qualitative survey results and also some inconsistencies in how the contractor performed site investigation activities. After evaluating ORAU’s comments and recommendations, DOE will determine whether additional investigations are required.

West Valley Demonstration Project
West Valley Reprocessing Plant in New York State was the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to operate in the United States from 1966-1972, during which time plant operations generated hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-level waste. Congress later passed the West Valley Demonstration Project Act in 1980, which changed the facility’s mission from fuel reprocessing to demonstration techniques for solidifying the high-level waste to a form that would permit disposal or recycling and not harm the environment. Doing so required the removal of high-level radioactive and toxic materials, as well as evaluating and validating whether release criteria had been met.

DOE enlisted ORAU’s independent verification expertise to validate whether release criteria had been met at two facilities located at West Valley: the South Tank Farm Training Test Tower and the Hazardous Waste Storage Lockers. The 48-foot-high test tower was previously used for training personnel to perform remote operations that involved high-level waste. The storage lockers—which can also be described as four pre-engineered, steel buildings—contained 208, 55-gallon drums and 19, five-gallon drums of waste.

ORAU’s final report concluded that the test tower and lockers sufficiently met the site criteria for release, clearing the way for the material to be disposed of or recycled.

National Priorities List
In addition to Hanford and West Valley, ORAU is helping DOE complete its multiyear effort to reduce the Oak Ridge National Priorities List footprint. To support this effort, ORAU’s environmental assessment team verified portions of land within the more than 33,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation that could be classified as “clean” per the standards outlined in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. ORAU’s work, which began with 5,200 acres in 2010, has since expanded.

In 2012, ORAU completed ecological assessments as well as the second round of reporting for 22,000 additional acres. Land parcels that met the risk criteria will be leased back to the private sector for industrial and other uses in the community. This project is expected to continue into 2013.

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