Radioactive Waste Disposal: Source Material Recovery and By-Product Material Disposal
- What is “source and by-product material”?
- What are the sources of by-product material and where can it be disposed?
- How is by-product regulated?
- Source material, by definition [re: 30 TAC Section §336.2(128) ], is "uranium or thorium, or any combination thereof, in any physical or chemical form; or ores that contain by weight, 0.05% or more of uranium, thorium, or any combination thereof. Source material does not include special nuclear material." [see 30 TAC §336.2(130) for the definition of special nuclear material]
- By-product material, as it relates to source material recovery, is defined [re: 30 TAC Section §336.1105(4) ] as "Tailings or wastes produced by or resulting from the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from any ore processed primarily for its source material content, including discrete surface wastes resulting from uranium solution extraction processes. Underground ore bodies depleted by such solution extraction operations do not constitute "by-product material" within this definition."
In Texas source material recovery has been limited to recovery of uranium. Uranium has been recovered by milling of ore extracted from the earth from open pit mining and by processing of fluid containing uranium extracted from subterranean ore bodies by in situ leach mining. Both types of recovery operations result in the generation of by-product material. The by-product material generated from each type of recovery operation differs in the following:
- Milling of ore results in the fines from the ground up ore and fluids used to extract and concentrate the uranium. These materials are disposed of in a mill tailings impoundment usually co-located with the mill. These waste products, or tailings, contain uranium which was not recovered in the extraction process, other radionuclides which were present in the ore (e.g., thorium, radium, radon, and other decay products); metals which may be present in uranium ore deposits (e.g., barium, cobalt, copper, lead, nickel, vanadium, molybdenum, selenium, arsenic); and fluids, such as, sulfuric acid, kerosene and water.
- In situ leach (ISL) uranium extraction operations result in sands which are extracted along with the uranium containing fluid, and fluids from which the uranium is extracted and concentrated. Most of the fluids and sand are disposed of by injection in disposal wells, usually located at the site.
In both instances, at the end of operations the sites must be decommissioned to meet release criteria. Equipment, structures, discrete solid objects and open areas must either be demonstrated to meet criteria for release to unrestricted use, or disposed of as by-product material. If disposal as by-product material is required, mill sites can dispose of by-product contaminated items in the mill tailings impoundment. However, ISL facilities must transfer their by-product-contaminated items to a site licensed to receive and dispose of by-product material. Currently there is no site in Texas authorized to receive by-product material generated in Texas for disposal. There are by-product waste disposal sites available outside of Texas. However, there is a licensed by-product waste disposal site in Texas that may be able to take such waste in the future.
The TCEQ regulates by-product material processing, storage, and disposal under 30 TAC, Chapter 336, Subchapter L , “Licensing of Source Material Recovery and By-Product Material Disposal Facilities” and 30 TAC, Chapter 336, Subchapter M , “Licensing of Radioactive Substances Processing and Storage Facilities.”
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