Most radioactive waste emerges as well-defined waste streams from operating power reactors. The management of this is an on-going practice, based on comprehensive (IAEA) guidelines. A special waste category however consists of the historical waste from research reactors, mostly originating from various experiments in the early years of the nuclear era. Removal of the waste from the research site, often required by law, raises challenges: the waste packages must fulfill the acceptance criteria from the receiving storage site as well as the criteria for nuclear transports. Often the aged waste containers do not fulfill today’s requirements anymore, and their contents are not well documented. Therefore removal of historical waste requires advanced characterization, sorting, sustainable repackaging and sometimes conditioning of the waste.
This paper describes the Dutch experience of a historical waste removal campaign from the Petten High Flux research reactor. The reactor is still in operation, but Dutch legislation asks for central storage of all radioactive waste at the COVRA site in Vlissingen since the availability of the high- and intermediate-level waste storage facility HABOG in 2004.
In order to comply with COVRA’s acceptance criteria, the complex and mixed inventory of intermediate and low level waste must be characterized and conditioned, identifying the relevant nuclides and their activities. Sorting and segregation of the waste in a Hot Cell offers the possibility to reduce the environmental footprint of the historical waste, by repackaging it into different classes of intermediate and low level waste. In this way, most of the waste volume can be separated into lower level categories not needing to be stored in the HABOG, but in the less demanding LOG facility for low-level waste instead. The characterization and sorting is done on the basis of a combination of gamma scanning with high energy resolution of the closed waste canister and low-resolution localized gamma scanning inside a hot cell.
A complicating factor is that the conditioning of the waste, consisting of compacting and cementing, would require such an extensive infrastructure at the Petten site, that it appeared to be more practical to have it executed by a foreign service provider. Therefore the waste packages have to comply with cross-border transport and waste acceptance criteria, and the national legislation of this service provider too.
This paper describes this historical waste project, focusing on the fast and precise characterization approach, the expert system behind it, and the sorting and repackaging effort at the Petten site.