Nuclear Waste in Virginia

placards identify radioactive shipments
placards identify radioactive shipments
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Radioactive Material Regulations Review

Virginia produces two types of nuclear waste, low-level and high-level radioactive waste.

High-level radioactive waste comes from nuclear power plants. Virginia's four civilian reactors "burn" uranium pellets that were placed in fuel rods, and carefully aligned in fuel assemblies, to produce electricity. When a certain percentage of the uranium has decayed, the spent fuel assemblies are treated as high-level radioactive waste.

Low-level radioactive waste includes radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, and rags from nuclear power plant maintenance and operations, plus some medical facility wastes and a few other items. Low-level waste is categorized into three classes.

Class A wastes have the lowest concentration of radioactive materials, mostly materials with half-lives of less than five years. Class B wastes have longer half-lives than Class A materials, while Class C wastes have longer half-lives than Class B materials - but still lower than high-level radioactive waste.

If Virginia ever permitted mining of the rich uranium deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, the state may start to generate mill tailings, a third form of radioactive waste.

In addition, transuranic waste is generated from the reprocessing of nuclear fuel and production of nuclear weapons involving plutonium. Transuranic wastes can be shipped to the national repository for such material, a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. There is no reprocessing or nuclear weapons production in Virginia.

None of Virginia's low-level or high-level radioactive waste is recycled or reprocessed. All of it is intended to be managed for centuries, and even thousands of years, at specialized disposal sites.

Before 2008, Virginia companies could ship low-level radioactive waste to Barnwell, South Carolina for disposal. Since 2008, Virginia's low-level Class A radioactive waste has been transported to Clive, Utah. Since 2012, a facility in Andrews, Texas has accepted Class A, B, and C waste.

High-level nuclear waste disposal, such as spent fuel assemblies from nuclear power plants, was supposed to go to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Plans for a permanent nuclear waste repository there were dropped in 2010. Dominion Virginia Power must stores its high-level waste, including waste classified as Greater Than Class C (GTCC), on-site at the Surry and North Anna power plants.

The AREVA and BWXT facilities in Lynchburg fabricate fuel assemblies used in commercial and US Navy nuclear power reactors. Those assemblies are radioactive, but are not "waste."

Low-Level Radioactive Waste in Virginia

High-Level Radioactive Waste in Virginia

Transporting Radioactive Waste in Virginia

radioactive waste in casks can be transported by truck or rail
radioactive waste in casks can be transported by truck or rail
Source: Department of Energy, Yucca Mountain

Links

most high-level radioactive waste to be transported out of Virginia will be spent fuel assemblies from two nuclear power plants
most high-level radioactive waste to be transported out of Virginia will be spent fuel assemblies from two nuclear power plants
Source: Department of Energy, Yucca Mountain


Waste Management in Virginia
Nuclear Power in Virginia
Virginia Places