Radioactive Waste Management for Sandia National Laboratories, NM

For over 19 years, Weston has characterized, treated, packaged and disposed of radioactive, mixed, classified, transuranic waste (TRU), and explosive legacy and newly generated waste in support of Sandia’s long-term commitment to protect the environment and human health.

For over 19 years, Weston has managed the operations at the Sandia Radioactive and Mixed Waste Management Facility for radioactive, mixed, TRU, classified and explosive waste, and supported Sandia’s Stewardship and Analytical Services Department. Our activities for this effort include radioactive and chemical characterization support, pickup, movement, packaging, and storage of waste, on-site sorting and treatment, and final off-site shipment to disposal and/or other treatment facilities, as well as data review and management support for the sample management office. During the initial stages of this project, Weston characterized, packaged, and disposed of the legacy waste that had accumulated, effectively reducing risk to the environment and the general population.

Weston is also responsible for RCRA compliance and conducts required inspections, labeling, and documentation of waste materials. Since the project’s inception, Weston can attest to zero lost workdays and no New Mexico Environment Department regulatory compliance findings or issues; similarly, there have not been any Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) recordable incidences in over 10 years.

Weston has substantially reduced off-site treatment costs by purchasing and utilizing Macro Bags as a new macroencapsulation technology for mixed waste. After backfilling, the container (7x4x4 box) is placed directly into the bag and sealed, reducing personnel contact with actual waste and also the potential spread of any associated beryllium contamination. The bags are approximately 80% less expensive than traditional metal macro boxes. Weston treated radioactive mock high explosives waste on-site instead of at an off-site facility, saving approximately $1M from the lowest bidder for treatment services.

In addition to the routine daily operations, Weston has completed numerous high hazard tasks:

  • Designed and built a unit for off-gassing highly toxic boron trifluoride from neutron detectors when no commercial treatment was available.
  • Used an ethanol solution to deactivate beryllium contaminated reactive sodium bonded to fuel.
  • Repackaged high dose rate TRU containers requiring facility modifications.
  • Repackaged accountable nuclear material for shipment. Fuel rods and pellets were size-reduced and repackaged into smaller aliquots for shipment.

Weston works with other generators and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories supporting critical national defense projects. Weston characterizes, packages, and ships uranium and plutonium isentropic compression experiments in support of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and technical area IV at Sandia. Weston also took possession of a high activity curium standard from another DOE contractor that did not have the capability to repackage and repackaged it into a shielded container for shipment to a DOE laboratory.

Weston provides technical support to Sandia’s TRU waste program and provides the Sandia Technical Representative (STR) to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for Sandia’s characterization, certification, and transportation TRU waste activities. The STR participates in the WIPP Corporate Board, is a remote-handled working group member, and participates in the small quantity site and remote-handled waste monthly conference calls.

Weston has consistently scored in the upper 80th percentile (exceeded expectations) and in the 90th percentile (provided exceptional performance) in the award fee Performance Assessment Scores issued by the Radioactive Waste Management Program and Stewardship Analytical Services.

Weston’s staff received two NNSA Defense Programs Awards of Excellence (2010, 2013)