Check out symmetrythe
Project secures material,
ORNL's Jim Terry and project leader Bill Hermes pay respects at the final resting place of 7 million pounds of thorium nitrate at the Nevada Test Site.
During the Cold War, the Atomic Energy Commission ordered the stockpiling of thorium nitrate for conversion into nuclear reactor fuel. ThN contains thorium-232, a naturally occurring radioisotope that can be transformed in a nuclear reactor to uranium-233.
As matters turned out, the thorium fuel cycle market never materialized and the government wound up with 7 million pounds of excess ThN on its hands. For the past several decades, the 21,000-barrel stockpile has been stored near a couple of large urban areas—Hammond, Ind., near Chicago, and Curtis Bay, Md., near Baltimore.
A multi-agency team that included the Defense Logistics Agency's Defense National Stockpile Center and DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has moved the stockpile to safe and permanent storage at the Nevada Test Site.
The project, which began in 1999, was completed in late August. Besides removing the radiological material from those urban warehouses, the ORNL-led team saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
For example, the ORNL team convinced regulators that the material would not react with oxygen and thus didn't require reprocessing for removal. That averted the necessity of designing, constructing and operating a $40-50 million processing plant.
Also, some of the casks of ThN had generated gases that turned the drums into potential bombs. The ORNL team devised a simple test for the presence of gas—they placed a steel bar across the top of the drum. If the top touched the bar, it meant gases had pooched out the top. Relatively few of the 21,000 drums indicated the pressurization; without the test, each drum would have required venting.
The ThN material itself presented challenges. Some was mined domestically; some came from Madagascar through France, and that material was more potent. The domestic-foreign difference had to be factored in arranging the shipments to make sure regulatory limits on transporting radiological materials weren't exceeded.
The eventual cost of the project was just over $17 million. Without ORNL's knowledge and technical sleuthing, the cost could easily have been as high as $70 million. And the team and its subcontractors accomplished the job with no lost-time accidents."This action was a huge win for the public and showed the agencies were able to work effectively together," project leader Bill Hermes, of ORNL's Nuclear Science and Technology Division, says.
Submitted by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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