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Transuranic Waste Retrieval and Certification


Transuranic (TRU) waste consists of waste that is contaminated with man-made radioactive elements other than uranium. The concentration of these elements in the waste determines whether it is TRU waste.
More than 70,000 containers of TRU waste were stored in the 200 Area Low-Level Burial Grounds of Hanford in the 1970s and 1980s. The intention was to retrieve the waste at a later date when a national repository was established to accept it.

With the 1999 opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, TRU waste from Hanford is now being retrieved, packaged to meet WIPP acceptance criteria, and shipped to the WIPP for permanent disposal.

The waste consists of tools, clothing, laboratory equipment, and other materials needed during the plutonium production mission at Hanford. Because the intention was to eventually retrieve the TRU waste, a typical TRU waste-storage trench consists of several levels of drums stacked on asphalt pads, separated with plywood, draped with tarps, and then covered with dirt.

During retrieval, crews in protective clothing unearth the drums, check the stability of the container holding the waste, and determine the level of radioactivity within the container. If the container is damaged or corroded, it must be placed into a second container called an overpack, so that the materials don’t spill onto the ground during removal and to allow for future characterization for disposal. The stability of the containers holding the waste varies. In some trenches, most of the containers are in good shape and can be safely removed without the need for an overpack. In other trenches, many containers are damaged or corroded, requiring an overpack.

Because the definition of TRU waste has changed over time, only about half of the stored waste is considered TRU waste. The other half is low-level waste. The TRU waste is shipped to the WIPP for disposal and the low-level waste is treated as necessary and disposed of on the Hanford Site.

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If a container is determined to contain TRU waste, it must go through a certification process before it can be shipped to the WIPP. The process involves x-raying the container or visually examining its contents to determine if any prohibited items, such as liquids or sealed containers over a certain size, are inside. If prohibited items are identified, they are removed at the appropriate facility at Hanford. The concentration of TRU elements in the container is measured to verify that the waste is TRU waste. Once certified for shipment, the waste can be packaged for safe transportation to the WIPP. It’s estimated that more than 1,200 shipments of waste will leave Hanford for the WIPP during the TRU retrieval program.

As of 2015, more than 649 shipments of TRU waste have been transported off the Hanford Site, and the equivalent of over 59,000 drums of waste has been removed from the ground.


Last Updated 10/26/2023 8:27 AM