Process Knowledge Characterization of Radioactive Waste at the Classified Waste Landfill Remediation Project Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico Page: 4 of 10
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Process Knowledge Characterization Of Radioactive Waste at the SNL/NM Classified Waste Landfill
much as 50 years ago. Recognizing this fact, the CWLF project management team enlisted the assistance
of weapons program consultants during the project-planning phase. These consultants are SNL/NM
personnel who are familiar with various weapons designs and are capable of identifying potential hazards
associated with individual weapons components, including non-fissile radioactive materials that were
deliberately incorporated into components to serve various functions. However, some weapons
component artifacts suspected to contain radioactive material couldn't be identified, even by
knowledgeable experts currently working in the weapons program because
> they were originally fabricated decades ago as one-of-a-kind items for testing purposes and are not
recognizable by consultants currently working in the SNL/NM weapons program; or
> the test methods included destructive testing for component integrity, thus rendering some excavated
components physically unrecognizable.
Project personnel have encountered numerous such artifacts that, if the radionuclides cannot be identified
by direct analysis such as gamma-ray spectroscopy, require significant effort on the part of project
personnel and weapons consultants to characterize.
Another obstacle to definitively characterizing CWLF radioactive waste streams lies with the fact that
many aspects of weapons component design are classified as confidential or secret restricted data.
Although CWLF project personnel have the proper level of security clearance, access to detailed
information pertaining to the exact quantities of radioactivity in some components also requires a need to
know. For national security reasons, placing knowledge of precise radioactivity quantities into the public
domain merely for waste characterization purposes is not warranted. Only approximate or maximum
activities of component sources are forthcoming, and are thus conservatively assumed to be present in
This problem is compounded by the unknown age of the waste artifacts. Many weapon components
contain radionuclides with intermediate half-lives ranging from about 12 to 100 years. For waste artifacts
that were produced, tested, and buried 12 to 50 years ago, their radioactivity could be reduced by 50 to
95% from the initial quantity, and their original activity should be corrected for radioactive decay.
However, since the components in the CWLF were buried as refuse with no expectation of future
recovery, there was no need to record the original date of production of radioactive materials they
contained. Thus, decay correction is not possible even if the original activity is known.
In addition to the problems associated with characterizing waste artifacts that are of unknown origin and
age and that contain "restricted data" radioactivity quantities, there is no efficient method to characterize
inaccessible internal surfaces of artifacts contaminated with radionuclides that emit no gamma-ray
signature. To do so would require disassembling and obtaining representative swipes of every item in the
waste stream. Because some waste streams contain thousands of such items, this method represents a
costly and time-consuming investment of available project funds and cannot be justified if alternative
methods are available.
The Need to Develop and Apply Process Knowledge
Radioactive waste characterization data are ultimately relied upon both by SNL/NM, as the waste
generator, and by the receiving waste disposal site to substantiate compliance with disposal site waste
acceptance criteria. For approximately the first ten months of the project, gamma-ray spectroscopy
characterization of waste containers using SNL/NM's Q2 drum counter was not acceptable for certifying
waste for disposal at the Nevada Test Site. Therefore, characterization of radioactive waste constituents
required heavy reliance on PK in combination with direct frisk field measurements to develop gross beta-
gamma and alpha activity estimates.
Sandia National Laboratories 2 of 8 October 8, 1999
Roy F. Weston, Inc.
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DOTSON,PATRICK WELLS; GALLOWAY,ROBERT B. & JOHNSON JR,CARL EDWARD. Process Knowledge Characterization of Radioactive Waste at the Classified Waste Landfill Remediation Project Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, article, November 3, 1999; Albuquerque, New Mexico. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc624522/m1/4/: accessed December 13, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.