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Thursday, February 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Richland nuclear plant OK’d to ship radioactive waste

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 7, 2017, 10:51 p.m.

Energy Northwest has had its privileges to ship radioactive waste to a commercial disposal site on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation reinstated.

Twice over the past 12 months, it sent waste from the nuclear power plant near Richland to US Ecology with manifests that didn’t match the shipments.

Most recently, the wrong manifest accompanied a July 20 shipment.

The Washington State Department of Health temporarily suspended Energy Northwest’s authorization to use US Ecology, which is about 10 miles from the Columbia Generating Station on leased land at the reservation.

Energy Northwest was required to pass a state inspection looking at improvements.

It established a shipping office to prepare and review shipping paperwork. The dedicated office workers can focus on the paperwork, without distraction, said John Dobken, Energy Northwest spokesman.

Energy Northwest also created a step-by-step document for reviewing shipping paperwork and added a check of steps by another worker.

The July 20 shipment had been properly packaged and was accepted by US Ecology, despite having the wrong manifest, according to Energy Northwest. There was no danger to the public or workers, the agency said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission took no action on the July incident

However, the NRC issued a “white” violation finding against the plant for a more serious shipping incident in November 2016 that involved improperly packaged waste. A “white” designation in the NRC’s color-coded system indicates low to moderate safety significance.

A 7-foot-tall, 45,000-pound cask of waste was trucked to the US Ecology site. It was approved for transporting waste with about half of the radioactivity the cask actually contained.

US Ecology surveyed the cask for radiation and rejected it after determining radiation was seven times greater than the shipping manifest for the package declared, according to Energy Northwest.

Improvements made then included additional training and new procedures on how material is handled and inventoried. Two departments involved in the shipment were combined under one manager.

In addition, a supervisor from an Arizona nuclear plant was brought in to assess Columbia Generating Station’s shipping program.

Energy Northwest was barred by the state Department of Health from sending waste to US Ecology after the November incident until mid-April.

The Columbia Generating Station still must undergo another NRC inspection related to the white finding.

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