EnergySolutions, a leading provider of comprehensive services to the nuclear industry, operates a variety of facilities, offices and projects in the United States and abroad.
Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., EnergySolutions is a NYSE-listed company that provides radioactive waste management solutions throughout the nuclear industry, including waste characterization, decommissioning and decontamination, waste processing, volume reduction, transportation and disposal.
EnergySolutions’ Clive, Utah disposal facility, located in Utah’s west desert approximately 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, is the nation’s largest privately owned low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal site.
The mission at Clive is to protect people and the environment by safely disposing of LLRW in regulated, engineered disposal embankments. EnergySolutions receives Class A LLRW from nuclear power plants, government cleanup sites, and research and medical institutions.
The history of how Clive became identified as the ideal geological and geographical location for disposing of Class A LLRW reaches back almost to the dawn of the peaceful nuclear-energy age.
In the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. government sponsorship of uranium-buying programs spawned mining and milling activity in Utah and other western states. Places like Moab, Monticello, Mexican Hat, Green River and Salt Lake City established important uranium milling operations.
Years later, uranium mill tailings piles left near abandoned mills drew the attention of Congress whose UMTRCA legislation (Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978) established an aggressive cleanup program. Since then, projects have been launched to relocate and isolate uranium tailings, beginning with the mill tailings pile in Salt Lake City, and continuing with more recent projects such as the Moab mill tailings pile in southern Utah near the Colorado River.
With the burgeoning population growth and business activity across the valley of Utah’s capital city, it became evident that the tailings from the local uranium mill needed to be relocated to a remote safe environment. In the 1980s, Clive was selected by the State of Utah and the U.S. Department of Energy as the ideal disposal site for the 2.5 million cubic yards of uranium tailings from the former mill in metropolitan Salt Lake City. Clive was selected following an extensive environmental search and study of 29 locations under consideration in northern Utah.
The Clive site received the highest total score from among evaluated characteristics such as its remoteness from any population centers or drinking-water sources, extremely low rainfall of 6-8 inches average per year, an evapotranspiration rate of 60 inches, the availability of rock and clay materials used in cell construction and compaction, close proximity to rail and interstate highway transportation corridors, and stable seismic setting.
As the project to transport and dispose of the uranium tailings from Salt Lake County was nearing completion in the late 1980s, a proposed project in Colorado caught the attention of Utah’s governor and legislative leaders. The Colorado cleanup project involved disposing of radium-tainted soils from the Denver area at a location atop a riverside mesa on the picturesque western slope of Colorado, just a few miles upriver from Utah. Utah’s leaders opposed that idea and instead voiced their support for Clive as an alternative and environmentally superior disposal location.
EnergySolutions’ predecessor company, Envirocare, was founded and received a license for disposal of NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) in 1988 and began receiving and disposal operations. Of the 640 acres of land at Clive that had been studied and used for disposal of Salt Lake City’s uranium tailings, only a 100-acre tract was needed. The remaining 540 acres were sold by the State of Utah in a transaction to Tooele County who, in turn, transferred the unused land at Clive to Envirocare. In 1989, the first material from the Denver Radium project was received and disposed at Clive.
Licenses and amendments for disposal of other radioactive material were added as industry’s needs developed. In 1990, the Clive facility received a permit for treatment, storage and disposal of MLLW (mixed low-level radioactive waste) that includes waste with both chemical constituents and radioactive material. Clive’s mixed-waste approval is a RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) Part B permit. In 1991, Clive was licensed for disposal of concentrations of certain isotopes within the lowest or “Class A” category of LLRW (low-level radioactive waste). In 1993, Clive received a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dispose of uranium mill tailings, sometimes referred to within the industry as “11e.(2) material.”
The State of Utah administers and regulates the Clive facility licenses and permits to dispose of Class A LLRW, NORM, 11e.(2) material, and MLLW (mixed low-level radioactive waste).
Unlike other existing commercial LLRW disposal sites which are state-owned, the Clive facility, property, buildings and equipment are privately owned by EnergySolutions. Over the years, the facility has been adapted to meet the changing needs of customers.
Working with customers in the nuclear industry, EnergySolutions has provided many solutions over its more than 20-year history.
Projects involving difficult-to-treat mixed waste, disposal of oversize pieces of equipment that require intact disposal, and remote characterization of waste that necessitates in-container management are examples of ways customers’ needs have been met with solutions at Clive.
In recent years, EnergySolutions completed several significant capital improvements at Clive which increased its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, including the installation of a new 6,000-horsepower metal shredder, rail handling loop, and rotary rail-car unloading and wash facility.
Transport to Clive
The facility’s location enables receipt of radioactive materials year-round via highway and rail transportation. A variety of boxes, drums, large components and intermodal containers can be received at the Clive facility.
Clive is served by the Union Pacific Railroad via the company’s private rail siding where more than seven miles of track are maintained. This direct rail access and the gondola railcar rollover system provide a cost-effective method for unloading upwards of 100,000 cubic feet of radioactive materials per day. EnergySolutions maintains a fleet of approximately 300 high-capacity gondola railcars under long-term operating leases, as well as custom designed flat cars and other multi-model containers, to facilitate the safe transport of radioactive materials to the Clive facility. They also maintain an all-weather paved asphalt road to the site from Interstate 80 to facilitate truck shipment.
The Clive facility uses an above-ground, engineered disposal design, also known as a secure landfill. Using standard heavy construction equipment, radioactive materials are placed in 24-inch-thick layers called “lifts” that are then compacted using GPS-enabled heavy equipment that ensures stability for long-term disposal and minimal active maintenance. The system relies on natural, durable materials to ensure performance over time.
EnergySolutions’ disposal cells utilize low-permeable clay for both the liner and cover. The clay liner and cover keep the waste in place and water away, while also preventing the escape of radon produced from decay products in the waste. A cover of gravel, soil and rock protects this design from erosion and intrusion of plants and animals to ensure the cell’s long-term performance.
At the Clive Mixed Waste disposal cell, a triple liner made of HDPE (high density polyethylene) is installed to further protect the environment by isolating the waste. The uppermost HDPE liner serves as a leachate collection system where accumulated precipitation is regularly removed from the cell. The bottom two HDPE liners serve as a leak-detection system.
Typically, waste placement for disposal is done by placing bulk material into a two-foot-thick layer or “lift.” Bulk material may contain certain amounts of debris.
When materials exceed a two-foot lift height or when large equipment is disposed intact, voids and air pockets are filled with CLSM (controlled low-strength material), a flowable grout material. When heavy components are disposed, they are placed on a prepared roadbase area within the cell to distribute weight.
Cylindrical containers or “liners” that come in specialty shipping casks are not opened due to their relatively higher radiation. Instead, these liners are removed from their shipping casks and placed into cylindrical concrete vaults called “caissons” or “culverts.” Again, voids are filled around these concrete vaults using CLSM.
Each disposal cell has a 24-inch-thick clay liner system designed to assist in isolating hazardous materials from the environment. The liners are placed on a foundation of compacted indigenous clay and soils. The top slopes of the cell embankment are covered with a compacted clay that is two to seven feet thick. This clay is covered by a rock drainage layer, and a two-foot thick rock erosion barrier to ensure long-term protection from the environment.
In the disposal cells at Clive, cover construction begins as areas are filled to capacity. The process of continual building, filling and capping of the cells ensures long-term cell stability and minimizes the work that would be required upon site closure.
Clive Waste Acceptance, Unloading, and Management
Prior to being shipped to Clive, waste profiles are created and reviewed by a technical team to ensure that the waste meets the site’s Waste Acceptance Criteria. Incoming shipments are inspected for compliance with Department of Transportation and license requirements. After arrival at Clive, shipments are sampled to ensure that the waste meets its profile description and other disposal criteria. Samples are analyzed for radiologic and chemical constituents. All of this data is reviewed by EnergySolutions to assure that no material is disposed that exceeds license parameters.
EnergySolutions’ gondola railcar rotary dumper system is capable of unloading 60 rail cars per shift. Trucks, forklifts, cranes and special unloading equipment are used to move incoming loads toward their final destination in the disposal cells.
Following unloading, most containers and railcars are decontaminated for continued use; some are disposed with the waste. Qualified health physics personnel at Clive survey all conveyances and containers prior to release to ensure that U.S. Department of Transportation or other applicable release criteria are met.
Projects and Customers
EnergySolutions has a presence at virtually every nuclear power plant and is involved in cleanup projects at major DOE clean-up sites which include the Hanford Reservation near Richland Washington, Los Alamos, New Mexico, U.S. and the Moab Uranium Tailings Project. Near Moab, EnergySolutions is removing and isolating 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings from an area near the Colorado River. The material from this project is transported by rail 30 miles north for permanent disposal at a DOE established disposal facility. Other recent projects include Fernald, Big Rock Point and Rocky Flats.
The 1,050-acre Fernald site was a former uranium processing facility located near Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S. Fernald’s operations supported Cold War era U.S. weapons programs. Once weapons operations shut down, the DOE turned its focus at Fernald to waste management and site remediation. As an integrated clean-up team member, EnergySolutions participated in the waste management and mixed waste projects at Fernald, providing project management and environmental expertise for site-wide waste retrieval, sorting and segregation, packaging, shipping and transportation.
The cleaned-up former weapons area at Fernald is now home to the Fernald Preserve, a nature area with miles of hiking trails, a visitors’ center and many thousands of tourists each year.
Big Rock Point
EnergySolutions D&D (decontamination and decommissioning) work was showcased at the Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant in Michigan, the longest-running nuclear reactor in the United States. The project involved engineering, design, licensing and fabrication of storage and handling equipment. The removal, transportation, processing and final disposal of material from structure and system dismantlement and on-site waste management resulted in the shipment, processing and disposal of 100 million pounds of LLRW and MLLW at our disposal operations in Barnwell, South Carolina and Clive, Utah.
The nearly 4,000-acre Rocky Flats site had been used by DOE for weapons production for almost 40 years, leaving behind a legacy of contaminated facilities, soils and groundwater before being designated by the EPA as a Superfund clean-up site. EnergySolutions’ Clive facility was used as the major disposition path for the disposal of LLRW, MLLW and other contaminated materials from Rocky Flats. The clean-up of Rocky Flats was declared complete by the DOE in October 2005 and has since been designated as a National Wildlife Refuge.
People, Safety and Environmental Protection
Clive is truly a fascinating operation and a highly valued asset in the nuclear industry. More than 200 people are employed at Clive in a wide variety of specialties, including health physics technicians, civil and nuclear engineers, heavy equipment operators, lab workers, security and safety personnel, electricians, mechanics and administrative professionals.
Clive’s safety program is behavior based and employee directed. Each Clive employee is empowered to stop operations to take a second look, to get answers to questions, to ensure everyone is clear about instructions and procedures, or to perform a training review, if he or she believes that proceeding without doing so would be unsafe. Clive has a well-developed safety culture. Between 2004 and 2009, Clive employees worked over 3.5 million man hours without a lost-time injury, a remarkable achievement for any industry or organization.
The environmental monitoring program at Clive is comprehensive and involves obtaining and analyzing samples of groundwater, air and soil, and conducting routine area surveys to ensure that the materials received are being isolated and not released to the surroundings. Clive has dozens of groundwater monitoring wells as well as soil and air sampling stations in locations selected with input from regulators.
Clive’s Operational Life… and Beyond
EnergySolutions is regulated by numerous state and federal agencies. The company has a financial surety fund of approximately $89 million that is updated monthly and for which the State of Utah is the trustee. Should EnergySolutions go out of business, the fund will be used by the State of Utah to close operations and monitor the site throughout the 30- to 100-year post-closure period. For the time beyond the post-closure period, a perpetual care fund has also been established by the State of Utah to take care of the closed facility.
About the Author:
Mark Walker is Vice President of Marketing and Media Relations at EnergySolutions. Prior to joining EnergySolutions in 2003, Mr. Walker managed public relations for the 2002 Winter Olympics, was the spokesperson for the Olympic Torch Relay, and worked ten years in TV broadcasting for CBS and ABC affiliates. Mr. Walker lives in Salt Lake City and has 4-year old twins, a daughter and son, who, Walker adds, often pose a greater challenge than managing public relations for a nuclear services company.