March 4, 2005  


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 more efficiently?
• 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:


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Wednesday March 02, 2005 by Emily Ball