|A stainless steel cask
will hold the Three-Mile Island waste as it is hauled from
Test Area North. Pipe fitter George Perez, left, and mechanic
Brad Stanger check the cask. Journal photo by Kelton
Three-Mile Island waste goes into
By Anne Minard
POCATELLO - Workers at the Idaho National
Engineering and Environmental Laboratory are preparing to move
debris from the most notorious nuclear disaster in United States
Since the early 1980s, waste from the 1979 reactor
accident at Three-Mile Island, a Pennsylvania nuclear-powered
generator, has been stored in underwater facilities at INEEL's Test
Area North. Idaho has decided that the time has come to move the
radioactive waste into more stable, dry facilities.
officials from INEEL, Bechtel BWXT-Idaho, and manufacturers of the
cask that will be used to ship the materials were gathered in
poker-faced groups to inspect, evaluate and prepare the facilities
for the transfer.
Operators used cranes to explore the insides
of concrete storage bins - each bin weighs 120 tons, is 10 feet
wide, 15 feet tall and 18 feet deep. Others crawled over and under
the stainless steel cask that will transfer the waste, looking for
cracks and structural problems.
INEEL accepted core debris -
including spent fuel and control rods, racks and metal fittings that
were fused together when the TMI core melted - from the early 1980s
There was no room in dry storage areas to store the
materials, said John Walsh, a spokesman for the DOE in Idaho, so
Department of Energy officials stored it in underwater facilities at
Test Area North, in the northern part of the 890,000-acre
The 344 stainless steel canisters - each 14 inches in
diameter and 12 and a half feet long - pose risks because they are
highly radioactive, and the current underwater storage facilities
don't meet regulatory safety requirements.
As part of a legal
agreement to move many types of nuclear waste stored at the site out
of the state of Idaho, all of the Three-Mile Island waste must be in
dry storage by June of 2001.
The site transferred one shipment,
or 12 canisters, of the waste into dry storage last year.
said 29 shipments will be required to move all of the waste. The
next shipment is expected to occur near the end of May.
described the process to transfer the fuel:
"They pull a canister
out of the water, drain it, dry it, and load 12 of them into another
container. It's almost like loading bullets," he said. "You drop
each one into a hole and it keeps them all separated and stable."
Brad Clawson, a senior operator at the site, said the cask used
to transfer the waste weighs up to 160 tons when it's full.
it arrives at the dry storage facility, a hydraulic ram shoves each
container into storage module. Clawson said truck drivers must be
accurate within 3/32 of an inch when backing the storage casks into
the concrete bins.
Anne Minard covers science and the environment
for the Journal. She can be reached at 239-3168 or by e-mail at