Isotope company expects truckload of radioactive waste each month
JANESVILLE — Smaller canisters, bigger boxes of clothing and even larger drums of concrete will be among the radioactive waste generated by a SHINE Medical Technologies plant planned for Janesville, according to company officials and their recent environmental report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The shipments of radioactive waste from the plant will average about a semi truckload a month, said Vann Bynum, chief operating officer of the company that plans to open a medical isotope production on the city's south side in 2016.
Gale Price, the city's manager of building and development services, said SHINE's current prediction of one truckload a month does not differ from the company's proposal when it was negotiating a development agreement with the city more than a year ago.
“The material has to leave the facility because they're not going to build a big cavern underneath it,” Price said. “We were always told about a truckload a month,
“Of course, there are very stringent regulations they need to follow in terms of shipping and disposing of that waste.”
Bynum said the vast majority of SHINE's waste would be classified at the lowest level in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Association's rating system.
It's radioactive waste that he and other SHINE officials have said is less dangerous than waste found at typical cancer treatment facilities.
“In layman's terms, it's the lowest level of anything that you call radioactive,” he said.
While Bynum said the radioactivity of the waste will be low, it will be shipped in different volumes, and that necessitates truck shipments.
The plant will have two primary waste streams.
The first, which will amount to about 4,000 cubic feet per year, includes trash that has been in any sort of contact with materials inside the plant's radiologically controlled area.
“It's anything that we can't be absolutely 100 percent certain has never touched anything in that area,” Bynum said.
It includes the plant's accelerators and other components of SHINE's production process that have become radioactive. Each of the plant's eight accelerators has a lifespan of about a year, and when they're no longer usable they will be broken down and shipped out of Janesville.
The first waste stream also includes personal protection equipment—coveralls and gloves—worn by workers.
All of the waste will be stored and shipped in containers approved by the nuclear commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
While the waste is categorized as low-level, Bynum said an accident involving a truck carrying the material would result in a response from a local hazardous materials response team.
“That's what HAZMAT teams do,” he said.
A second significant waste stream revolves around the low-enriched uranium that's at the heart of SHINE's production system. It also stems from the company's commitment to not release any liquids containing radioactive materials into Janesville's sewer system.
In a complicated process, SHINE will use uranium to produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope used in more than 30 types of diagnostic imaging procedures performed more than 50,000 times each day in the United States.
The uranium is reused, but it first must go through a number of purification steps. All involve water or a solvent and leave behind a liquid solution with low-level radioactivity.
The solution eventually is mixed with cement and poured into either 30- or 50-gallon drums for storage, shipment and disposal.
While low in radioactivity, the concrete plugs require more truck space, Bynum said.
The plant's radioactive waste likely will be sent to commercial disposal sites in Texas and Utah, he said.
Bynum and Greg Piefer, SHINE's founder and chief executive officer, said recent passage of the American Medical Isotope Production Act could result in lower volumes of waste being shipped from the plant without changing the material's level of radioactivity.
“It might allow us to concentrate to low volumes, but the radioactivity will be the same either way,” Piefer said in an email.
The bill, signed by President Barack Obama in January, supports the production of Mo-99 for medical uses in the United States by non-federal entities. It also calls for the United States to phase out the export of highly enriched uranium for the production of medical isotopes over a period of seven years.