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Frequently Asked Questions

Proposed Disposal Locations for GTCC LLRW and GTCC-Like Waste

DOE is evaluating six federal sites and generic commercial locations for the disposal of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste.

Proposed Disposal Locations:

Map of Potential DOE locations for disposal facilities.click to view larger image
Potential Disposal Locations

For deep geologic disposal, DOE is evaluating disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. For intermediate depth borehole disposal, DOE is evaluating disposal at new facilities at the Hanford Site in Washington, Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Nevada National Security Site (formerly Nevada Test Site) in Nevada, and the WIPP Vicinity in New Mexico. For enhanced near surface (trench and above grade vault) disposal, DOE is evaluating the same sites as the borehole facility plus the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. For each of the DOE sites, a reference location was identified to serve as the basis for the evaluations presented in the Final EIS. Generic commercial locations are also analyzed in the EIS for the borehole, trench, and vault methods should one or more commercial locations be identified in the future.

Potential GTCC Disposal Sites Proposed for Analysis in the EIS

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)
WIPP is a DOE facility and is the first underground deep geologic repository. It is permitted by the EPA and the State of New Mexico to safely and permanently dispose of defense-generated TRU radioactive waste (WIPP LWA [P.L. 102-579]). The facility began disposal operations in 1999. WIPP is located 42 km (26 mi) east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the Chihuahuan Desert in the southeast corner of the state. Project facilities include disposal rooms that are mined 655 m (2,150 ft) under the ground in a salt formation (the Salado Formation) that is 610-m (2,000-ft) thick and has been stable for more than 200 million years.

The WIPP facility sits in the approximate center of a 41-km2 (16-mi2) area that was withdrawn from public domain and transferred to DOE. The facility footprint itself encompasses 14 fenced ha (35 fenced ac) of surface space and about 12 km (7.5 mi) of underground excavations in the Salado Formation. There are four shafts to the underground: the waste shaft, salt handling shaft, air intake shaft, and exhaust shaft (see Figure S-8). There are several miles of paved and unpaved roads in and around the WIPP site, and an 18-km-long (11-mi-long) access road runs north from the site to U.S. Highway 62-180. The access road that is used to bring TRU waste shipments to WIPP is a wide, two-lane road with paved shoulders. Railroad access to the site is in place but is not currently in use.

Hanford Site (Hanford)
The GTCC reference location at the Hanford Site is south of the 200 East Area in the central portion of the Hanford Site. The 200 East and West Areas are located on a plateau about 11 and 8 km (7 and 5 mi), respectively, south of the Columbia River. Historically, these areas have been dedicated to fuel reprocessing and to waste management and disposal activities.

Current waste management activities at the Hanford Site include the treatment and disposal of LLRW on-site, the processing and certification of TRU waste pending its disposal at WIPP, and the storage of high-level radioactive waste on-site pending disposal. DOE announced in the December 18, 2009, Federal Register (74 FR 67189) that its preferred alternative in the Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management (TC&WM) EIS (DOE 2009) includes not shipping GTCC LLRW to Hanford at least until the Waste Treatment Plant is operational. The Waste Treatment Plant is expected to be operational in 2022. The main areas where waste management activities occur are the 200 West Area and the 200 East Area. These 200 Areas cover about 16 km2 (6 mi2). Activities at the 200 Areas include the operation of lined trenches for the disposal of LLRW and mixed LLRW and the operation of the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility for the disposal of LLRW generated by environmental restoration activities that are being conducted at the Hanford Site to comply with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). U.S. Ecology, Inc., operates a commercial LLRW disposal facility on a 40-ha (100-ac) site leased by the State of Washington near the 200 East Area. The facility is licensed by the NRC and the State of Washington.

Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
The GTCC reference location at INL is southwest of the Advanced Test Reactor Complex in the south central portion of INL. The Advanced Test Reactor is dedicated to research supporting DOE missions, including nuclear technology research.

Current waste management activities at INL include the treatment and storage of mixed LLRW on-site, the treatment of LLRW on-site and its disposal on-site or off-site in DOE or commercial facilities, the storage of TRU waste on-site and its preparation for and shipment to WIPP, and the storage of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel on-site pending the disposal of these last two materials. These wastes originate from DOE activities and from the on-site Naval Reactors Program. LLRW (RH waste) from INL site operations is disposed of at the Subsurface Disposal Area at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. CH LLRW is sent off-site. TRU waste is also stored and treated at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex and Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center to prepare it for disposal at WIPP.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
The GTCC reference location at LANL is situated in three undeveloped and relatively undisturbed areas within Technical Area (TA)-54 on Mesita del Buey: Zone 6, North Site, and North Site Expanded. Zone 6 is slightly less than 7 ha (17 ac) in area. It is not fenced, but access by road is controlled by a gate. The total area of the North Site is about 16 ha (39 ac). The North Site Expanded section adds another 23 ha (57 ac). The primary function of TA-54 is the management of radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes. Its northern border coincides with the boundary between LANL and the San Ildefonso Pueblo; its southeastern boundary borders the community of White Rock.

Current waste management activities at LANL include the storage of mixed LLRW, the disposal of LLRW on-site, the storage of TRU waste on-site, and the storage of sealed sources recovered by the Global Threat Reduction Initiative/Off-Site Source Recovery Project (GTRI/OSRP) for national security or public health and safety reasons pending disposal. Area G at TA-54 currently accepts on-site LLRW for disposal; also, in special cases, off-site waste has been accepted from other DOE sites for disposal. Engineered shafts are actively used to dispose of RH LLRW.

Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)
The GTCC reference location for NNSS is identified within Area 5 and serves as a basis for evaluation. Area 5 is one of two areas (the second being Area 3) at NNSS that support the site’s radioactive waste management program. Area 5 is located in the southeastern section of NNSS in Frenchman Flat. If NNSS is selected, the final location for a GTCC disposal facility will be based on further analysis. NNSS presently serves as a regional disposal site for LLRW and mixed LLRW generated by DOE facilities. It is also an interim storage site for a limited amount of newly generated TRU mixed wastes pending transfer to WIPP for disposal. From 1984 through 1989, boreholes (at depths of 21 to 37 m [70 to 120 ft]) were used at the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site to dispose of higher-activity LLRW and TRU waste.

Savannah River Site (SRS)
The GTCC reference location is situated on an upland ridge within the Tinker Creek drainage, about 3.2 km (2 mi) to the northeast of Z-Area in the north-central portion of SRS. The area is not currently being used for waste management.

SRS currently manages high-level waste, TRU waste, LLRW, and mixed LLRW. High-level waste is vitrified at the Defense Waste Processing Facility and stored on-site pending disposal. TRU waste is stored, prepared for shipment, and shipped to WIPP for disposal. LLRW is treated and disposed of on-site, or it is prepared for shipment to be disposed of at other DOE sites (e.g., NNSS) or commercial facilities. On-site facilities for LLRW disposal include engineered trenches and vaults.

WIPP Vicinity
WIPP Vicinity refers to Township 22 South, Range 31 East, Sections 27 and 35, with each section containing a total of 260 ha (640 ac) or 2.6 km2 (1 mi2). Only a portion of Section 27 or Section 35, if selected, would be needed to accommodate a new GTCC waste disposal facility. Section 27 is within the WIPP Land Withdrawal Boundary (LWB), while Section 35 is just outside the WIPP LWB to the southeast. Section 27 is administered by DOE, and Section 35 is administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the U.S. Department of the Interior. WIPP is located in Eddy County in southeastern New Mexico, about 42 km (26 mi) east of the city of Carlsbad. The land is a relatively flat, sparsely inhabited area (about 101,000 people in an 80-km [50-mi] radius, according to the 2000 census), known as Los Medaños (Spanish for “the dunes”).

There are no potash or oil and gas leases on Section 27 since it is part of the land that has been withdrawn. Section 35 contains oil and gas leases. Currently, no waste management activities are being conducted at Section 27 or Section 35.

Generic Regional Commercial Disposal Sites
In the absence of specific commercial sites, DOE evaluated generic commercial facilities in the EIS to allow DOE to make a programmatic determination regarding disposal of GTCC LLRW and GTCC-like waste in such a facility. In a Request for Information in the FedBizOpps on July 1, 2005, DOE solicited technical capability statements from commercial vendors that may be interested in constructing and operating a GTCC waste disposal facility. Although several commercial vendors expressed an interest, no vendors have provided specific information on disposal locations and methods for analysis in the EIS in response to the FedBizOpps request or since that time. Should one or more commercial facilities be identified at a later time, DOE would conduct further NEPA reviews, as appropriate. The generic commercial sites are evaluated in the GTCC EIS on the basis of a regional approach that divides the United States into four regions consistent with the designations of Regions I through IV of the NRC. Region I comprises the 11 states in the northeast; Region II comprises the 10 states in the southeast; Region III comprises the 7 states in the Midwest; and Region IV comprises the remaining 22 states in the western part of the country.

Current commercially operated LLRW disposal facilities for non-GTCC LLRW are located in Region II (Barnwell in South Carolina, which receives Class A, B, and C waste) and Region IV (facilities in Richland, Washington, and in Clive, Utah, which receive Class A, B, and C wastes and Class A waste, respectively). One new disposal facility located in Andrews County, Texas, has been licensed and is expected to begin operating in 2011. The federal sites evaluated in the EIS are also located within these same two regions.

Links to additional information on this topic are also available on the Links page.