Handling Radioactive Waste
By Quang Le
Radioactive materials (RAM), are byproducts of accelerator operations
and can present unique challenges. They need to be identified, stored
and managed to minimize exposure to people and to the environment. When
these materials can no longer be used—and all such materials reach this
stage eventually—proper disposal is a must.
This is why it is important for us to plan for the ‘life-cycle’ of all
materials we place in or near the accelerator and experiments. Remember,
not all materials start off being radioactive. They can become that way
with exposure to energy sources, and the cost of managing and disposing
of irradiated materials can exceed hundreds, and in some cases,
thousands of times the purchase price.
Until recently, SLAC has been shipping 400 to 900 cubic feet of
radioactive waste per year to the DOE site in Hanford, Washington for
disposal. In July 2004, that site was closed to most off-site waste
generators such as SLAC. Loss of Hanford reduced the total number of
available sites for radioactive waste disposal in the country to just
four, with only one within the DOE complex.
Besides waste being processed and shipped for disposal, we also store
various radioactive materials for future use on site. While indoor
storage is probably the only proven long-term option for some bulkier
materials, space is scarce and needs to be used wisely.
What can you do to help SLAC manage radioactive materials and wastes
• Include potential waste issues in project planning. The type of
material used can greatly affect the cost and possibility of disposal.
Also, include disposal costs in project budgets. It costs much more to
dispose of materials—including commonly used items such as brass and
lamps—that have hazardous components.
• Consider alternative materials. Instead of using a known hazardous
material in an area where it may become radioactive, contact the
Radioactive Waste and Material Accountability (RWMA) Group of the
Radiation Protection Department. We can help you identify alternatives.
• Reuse materials whenever possible. This saves not only on purchase
costs but also on storage and disposal.
If you have any questions contact the RWMA Group by calling Joe Christy,
Ext. 2823 or Quang Le, Ext. 2610. Our Web site is at: