Environment News Service


Wednesday, February 17, 1999

The Department of Energy (DOE) has decided to treat and move some of the plutonium wastes now stored at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site near Denver, Colorado into the salt caves of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The DOE says that the decision was taken to "eliminate health and safety concerns associated with interim storage of these materials." The plutonium residues and scrub alloy to be moved are intermediate products and wastes from Rocky Flats’ past manufacture of plutonium components for the nation’s defense program. They are in a variety of forms: ash, salts, glass, sludges and metal. Some of the Rocky Flats plutonium residues and all of its scrub alloy now in storage require processing to stabilize the materials, reduce their plutonium concentrations or otherwise put them into forms that meet the requirements for disposal. The residues processed at Rocky Flats will remain in storage there until they are shipped to WIPP for disposal. A limited amount of residues, at most 306 kilograms, may be packaged and shipped to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for processing if they are found unsuitable for processing at Rocky Flats. Any residues sent to Los Alamos would be stabilized by separating the plutonium by acid dissolution, followed by plutonium oxide recovery and disposition. They would be transported in weapons-grade containers.

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