LOS ALAMOS, N.M.— A system developed in the United Kingdom to more accurately analyze the contents of radioactive waste drums is being demonstrated at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to test its use on U.S. waste streams.

The demonstration is being hosted by Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B), legacy cleanup contractor at LANL for the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management (EM) Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA).

This new system has the potential to enhance the measurement and characterization of legacy waste, which could optimize space for the disposition of transuranic waste at EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad.

“In addition to a more accurate and quicker analysis of waste drums, the Universal Drum Assay and Segregation System (UDASS) could allow for more efficient use of cleanup dollars for legacy waste operations,” said Jeff Holland, N3B’s manager for the UDASS project.

The system was developed by ANTECH, which designs and manufactures nuclear measurement equipment, and is being demonstrated at LANL by Nuvision Engineering (NVE), which provides engineering and technology solutions to the nuclear industry.

Current methods for identifying and quantifying waste in containers are not as sensitive as UDASS. Systems used in the U.S. today are conservative in evaluating container contents.

Transuranic waste is waste that contains radioactive elements that have atomic numbers higher than uranium on the periodic table of elements, such as plutonium and americium, and emit alpha particles, or radiation, greater than 100 nanocuries per gram.

UDASS uses multiple measurement technologies and sophisticated analysis, leading to a more sensitive analysis. If the test is successful, deployment of UDASS could decrease and expedite transuranic waste shipments to WIPP from Technical Area 54, Area G at LANL.

“By using more sophisticated measuring techniques, we can safely reduce the uncertainty in the waste determinations and increase the efficiency of shipping waste offsite,” said Holland.

He added, “At LANL, for example, our cleanup work includes retrieving and processing hundreds of transuranic waste containers for shipment to WIPP. The more sensitive analysis should better differentiate between transuranic and low-level waste.”

Because it had shown success at the Sellafield Site in the United Kingdom, EM decided to have UDASS demonstrated in the United States to show its viability for U.S. waste streams. N3B agreed to take on the complex integration of the new technology into an existing facility as part of its legacy waste cleanup responsibilities at LANL.

The team has been working since 2022 to select and prepare a site, design the necessary infrastructure, adapt existing processes to recognize a new system, select a population of waste containers for the demonstration and provide site training to the NVE operators.

In March 2024, the N3B and NVE team began analyzing a test set of 400 legacy waste drums known to contain 80 to 400 nanocuries per gram of waste.

The demonstration is expected to be completed this summer, and the data will be processed and analyzed by EM and ANTECH. Then, EM will compare them to the known nanocuries per container to determine how UDASS may benefit cleanup work at LANL and, perhaps, across the nation.

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About N3B
Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) is a limited liability company owned by HII Nuclear and BWX Technologies. N3B manages the $2.1 billion, 10-year Los Alamos Legacy Cleanup Contract for the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office.

Photos

On a recent trip to Los Alamos, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Avery, front right, received a status report on the UDASS demonstration from John Ritter, NVE project manager. The N3B team has been working since 2022 to prepare for the demonstration, which began in March by analyzing a test set of 400 drums containing transuranic waste.

Workers place a container of waste in the Universal Drum Assay and Segregation System at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where UDASS is being demonstrated as a way to more accurately analyze the radioactive contents in drums, especially transuranic waste content.