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DOE: Plant for processing hot sludge to cost $100M

Frank Munger, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:34 PM

OAK RIDGE (MCT) -- A special facility to process highly radioactive sludges -- including some waste that dates back to Oak Ridge's work on the World War II Manhattan Project -- will cost at least $100 million to design and construct, according to the Department of Energy.

The planning is still in a preliminary stage, but DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said the agency's "early estimates" suggest the price tag will likely exceed $100 million.

The new plant is to be built at the site of DOE's Transuranic Waste Processing Center, which is located west of Oak Ridge National Laboratory off Highway 95.

Ultimately, DOE plans to process about 2,000 cubic meters of the radioactive sludges -- described as having the consistency of peanut butter -- and package the nuclear material for disposal at the Nevada National Security Site, a desert facility formerly known as the Nevada Test Site.

The radioactive sludges are currently housed in stainless-steel tanks inside a steel vault adjacent to the waste-processing complex in Melton Valley. Most of the hot wastes were relocated to Melton Valley in the 1990s because of concerns about the condition of their former storage containers, including the underground gunite tanks in ORNL's historic central campus.

Koentop, the executive officer of DOE's Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said the agency next year will issue a request for proposals from companies interested in designing the sludge-processing plant.

Originally, DOE had included the design work as part of the contract held by Wastren Advantage Inc., which manages the existing operations at the Transuranic Waste Processing Center. But DOE then issued a stop-work order to WAI on the sludge project and said it planned to perform that work under a separate contract.

WAI's work has been under intense scrutiny because of a number of problems at the Transuranic Waste Processing Center, where long-lived radioactive debris is packaged for disposal at the government's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. DOE said it wanted WAI to focus solely on its existing missions.

Koentop said the design contractor will construct a mock test facility to assist in development of the final design for the processing plant. That reportedly will be followed by another contract for construction and operation of the sludge-processing facility.

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