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UNITED STATES ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSIbN
WASTE MATERIALS IN THE UNITED STATES
ATOMIC ENERGY PROGRAM
Arthur E. Gorman
U.S DMENS DE
January 12, 1950
Division of Engineering
Technical Information Service, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
S,, t7 4
Subject Category, WASTE DISPOSAL.
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The Atomic Energy Commission makes no representation or warranty
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process disclosed In this report may not Infringe privately-owned rights.
The Commission assumes no liability with respect to the use of, or for
damages resulting from the use of, any Information, apparatus, method or
process disclosed In this report.
WASTE MATERIALS IN THE UNITED STATES ATOMIC ENERGY PROGRAM*
By Abel Wolman and Arthur E. Gorman
Dr. Alan Gregg, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Advisory
Committee on Biology and Medicine, gives the key to virtually all the prob-
lems of disposal of the waste materials in the Atomic Energy Commission
program. In his foreword in the Sixth Semi-Annual Report of the Atomic
Energy Commission of July 1949, he states, "The Commission is charged by
law with the exclusive control of materials, equipment, and processes
which are unique, constantly dangerous, and certainly not yet sufficiently
understood. To this task is added the difficult circumstance, foreign to
most other scientific enterprise, of secrecy...Virtually a second world
for study and exploration comes thus into being as a result of profoundly
understanding the laws that govern the phenomena of the world about us--
the first world we studied and explored."1
The industry for which the Commission is now responsible has many
parallels, however, in the more orthodox industries with which most people
are familiar. It takes commonly-known raw materials and by new processes
of refinement and conversion it produces old and new materials which have
many useful as well as destructive characteristics. The uniqueness of
the industry stems, however, as Dr. Gregg has pointed out, from the ex-
clusive control which the Commission exercises, from the secrecy which
surrounds many of the processes and decisions and from the imperfectly
understood features of some of the processes and of the effects of their
The history of most industrial operations discloses perhaps too many
instances of the production of wastes with ill effects on people, land,
or water. In these more familiar trades, however, effects were visible,
frequently measureable and invariably under some form of continuing pub-
lic and often official scrutiny. Even in such a situation, the liter-
ature is replete with errors of judgment, of undue exposures of man,
animal, and plant life, of struggles toward corrective measures and of
continual checking and rechecking by disinterested observers. In the
atomic energy program, secrecy of purpose makes the waste disposal prob-
lem far more difficult of evaluation and of correction.
The industry is concerned with high energy radiation, having its
origin in the core or the nucleus of the atom. The common source, for
*Presented before the Seminar on Industrial Safety Problems of
Nuclear Technology, New York University, January 12, 1950.
Ahe ament, of most of the processes is the uranium ore, analogous in
mway respects to the raw materials or ores which might be processed ini-
tially in such an industry as steel making. Energy is released from the
refined uranium by splitting the atom, with consequent production of high
aeMrgy radiation. As far as is known all high energy radiation has ap-
prozxmately the same kind of effect on living cells and living tissues.
Some forms of radiation may cause greater amounts of damage, but the gen-
eral type of injury is the same.
Unfortunately, the exact mechanism by which radiation harms living
molecules, cells, and tissues is not sufficiently understood, although in
the last 20 years radiologists have codified the rule of thumb methods for
working with x rays and radium. As would be expected, many former views
are now being revised under the impact of new knowledge and the margins
of safety for protecting man against radiation have been regularly widened.
As a matter of fact, within a period of 20 years the level of radiation
formerly allowed has been cut virtually in half. Many activities are under
way seeking to provide data upon which to evaluate the effects of different
radiations, and consequently to establish approximate standards and rules,
"but, here again, the investigators are deeply aware of a lack of basic,
fundamental knowledge of the mechanism of radiation effects."1,'2',3
Problems in radioactive waste disposal arise in approximately the
same manner as would be the case in many analogous industries. In the
operation of a chain-reacting pile, for the production of plutonium, for
the production of radioisotopes, for the development of power, or for ex-
perimental purposes, the necessity ultimately arises of separating, chem-
ically, various radioisotopes from the mixture of partially depleted ura-
nium and its products.4 Separation processes involve the use of large
amounts of liquid carrying considerable quantities of radioisotopes in
solution. In similar fashion, considerable quantities of radioactive
gases or of air-borne radioactive materials result. The pile coolant it-
self, whether air, water, or other material ip a source of possible gas-
eous, solid, and liquid contamination. The amount and nature, and the
effect of such materials upon the air, receiving bodies of water and plants
and animals, are important considerations for determination. The water
supply, sewage, and refuse of working or other areas at times are also
affected. Essentially, the question is a simple one. Are such materials
harmful to man, to plant, or to lower animal life and in what concentra-
tions may they be permitted to be discharged with safety into the atmos-
phere, into the water or on to the land? Unfortunately, most of these
materials cannot be neutralized by any known practical method. They either
must "outline" their hazardous effects or they must be permanently shielded
against the outside living world. In addition, medical research has not
discovered any treatment which for the moment will neutralize the tissue
damage if such radioactive materials are fixed in the body tissues.
The engineer and the medical officer confronted with these problems,
for which no firm guides are available as precedents, must necessarily
adopt a conservative attitude toward the control methods now practiced or
being evolved. Here policy issues arise, but the benefit of doubt must be
given to the public. Hence the establishment of permissible limits of
radioactivity in air, water, and food are expected to provide a high factor
of safety, until biological research, firmly supported by epidemiological
experience, establishes strong and positive bases for reducing such fac-
tors of safety.
In evaluating the hazards it is important to re-emphasize the fact
that very small concentrations of many of the radioisotopes prod ce tol-
erance dosages. Furthermore, as Forrest Western has pointed out a dis-
tinction must be made between tolerance concentrations and operating
practices. In the latter cases, he, as well as most investigators, in-
sist that liberal safety factors are essential in the present state of
knowledge. He points out in addition, as will be discussed later herein,
that when uch materials are drained into a. sewer, stream, or bay, it can-
not be assumed that such radioactive wastes will necessarily remain in the
dilution originally calculated for such control purposes. The greatest
amount of care must be exercised in continued checking in order to be as-
sured that nature's capacity for concentrating various chemical elements
is not coming into play and vitiating the assumed dilution results. This
is particularly true if it is remembered that radiation effects may be of
long duration, even following short wartime uses.
The monitoring of discharged air, water, and solids, therefore, be-
comes one of major continuing administrative functions of the Commission.
Without such detailed monitoring radioactive contents in the surrounding
world may become excessive. Emphasis upon this phase of administrative
housekeeping cannot be too great. That such monitoring shall remain the
exclusive monopoly of the Commission, without a rising parallel testing
by federal, state, and municipal health authorities is highly questionable.
The establishment of the permissible limits of radioactivity to which
man may be safely exposed, either for short intervals of time or for a
lifetime, is admittedly a difficult task in the present state of knowl-
edge. Extrapolation from findings on lower animals to the impacts upon
man are likewise unsatisfactory. Experimentation upon human beings is
of course difficult, particularly where long-range effects are of sig-
nificant importance. Most experts indicate that evidence regarding
chronic exposure to radioactivity is unfortunately very meager. In the
discussions of permissible limits, particularly with reference to drink-
ing water, some workers have contended that large factors of safety should
not be employed on the reasoning that the results would lead to radiation
levels which are many times smaller than some of the natural radioactive
waters now being drunk at health spas. Opponents of this view properly
insist that large urban populations have never been exposed to drinking
such radioactive waters for a life span and it is indeed unknown how many
cases of cancer such a practice would have produced. Epidemiological
studies of populations exposed to high natural radioactive health waters
have not been satisfactorily explored. The values of radioactivity in-
herent in these waters, therefore, should not be summoned up as reasonable
basis for comparison with daily ingestion by large populations over a life-
At the moment, most authorities apparently feel that a differential
permissible limit should be established for plant employees considerably
in excess of that which would be acceptable for off-site large populations,
largely because such employees can be kept under much closer check than
would be the case for the general public. It is also clear that in war
permissible limits undoubtedly would be moved upward on the bases of gen-
eral increased risks to life.
Permissible dosages in air and in drinking water are shown in Table 1.
Although Table 1 summarizes some of the best present estimates, it must be
admitted that the permissible limits as stated in many instances do not
rest on very solid scientific grounds. Until something better is avail-
able, however, the limits do appear to provide high factors of safety and
certainly may serve as guides for the determination of practices in the
control of discharge of nuclear fission wastes.
This unsatisfactory situation as to permissible limits has counter-
parts in many other industries. The health officer, the toxicologist, and
the food chemist are almost always confronted with this same dilemma, par-
ticularly where regulatory measures are under various more familiar ele-
ments. One of the recent authorities in this field has aptly reflected
the dilemma with which we are confronted in the atomic energy industry by
pointing out that in the food industry "agreement between what is clearly
toxic and what is undoubtedly harmless is not likely to be reached without
far more complete knowledge of human physiology than we possess at present."
It is further pertinent to our discussion here today to continue the quo-
tation from Monier-Williams that "meanwhile, any reference must be on the
side of the consumer."5
The administrative officer, of course, is always caught between the
Scylla, of avoiding impeding progress in the industry, and the Charybdis,
of protecting the general population against the hazards of a new industry.
In this connection it is worth recalling that at least part of the
medical profession was confident that lithium chloride could be used to
supplant sodium chloride'for patients requiring a low sodium content. Not
a single voice was raised against such use until a few deaths were recorded
within the last 12 months. The incident serves to recall that lithium was
at one time regarded as an important and safe ingredient of certain so-
called health waters.
Before the details of the nature and the sources of wastes are dis-
cussed, we should revert very briefly to the important problem of adminis-
trative control over atomic energy operations in the United States. The
unique character of this most important industry has already been mentioned.
By Congressional Act the Atomic Energy Commission has virtually sole power
over this important development. In this respect it is unlike any other
industry with which the public has hitherto been confronted. Normally the
activities of an industry, which potentially may have some public health
influence upon the surrounding population, has the continued scrutiny of
official public health agencies, on federal, state, and local levels.
In the case of nuclear fission operations, however, a publicly owned
and operated industry has been assigned by Congress the task of developing
complex processes, of establishing standards of permissible limits for
Table 1*--Permissible Concentration of Radioisotopes
conc. in the
Isotope tissue (uc/g)
0.30 Total Body
0.58 Total Body
(8 hr day)
*Adapted from a table prepared by Dr. K. Z. Morgan, Health Physics Division, ORNL. To be published by the National
Research Council in the Handbook of Nucleua Instruments and Techniques. (Reference: "Investigations on Radioactive
Waste Disposal in Relation to Water and Sewage Treatment" 0. R. Placak & R. J. Morton. Presented at the 21st Annual
Meeting of the Kentucky-Tennessee Section of the American Water Works Association and the 3rd Annual Meeting of the
Kentucky-Tennessee Industrial Wastes and Sewage Works Association 10-31 and 11-1-49.)
(8 hr day)
humrn expswafle, of adtinalterwa dgpoeal pvgraB to comply with such
limits, eaM of Tvlewing the successes or failures oa each of these steps
as the inWtaUy progrWsses. The unique doharmter of this situation with
reference to tSadtrtal wastes wed ot labor the normal processes
Oa supervaiQen ad ngattam iprraf amildble through federal, state,
an local bkentb -ar'iate and health aofrlsre ere missing ad their
initiation la hbafa apped br aeoual~r p .ilueso tees afticiaL agencies,
however, un doubtely h eaatbai esaz w valuable to provide,
Although the Atomat S&argy COaolSmiO ee *xtendad asteriallsy its area
of interagency participation in neamt yaea, mor s cuplete joint dis-
oussions have unquestionably been retarded tg' the difficulties of securiWV
neoee and the "etragenese" at the industry.
The relatlowhip between mnaler fiselie operating control and offi-
cial health department review in this country is quite different from that
which prevails in England, In the latter country, as in the United States,
sole responsibility for all atomic emwr operations rests with the Min-
istqy of Supply. But from the beglming of Its operations, comultatioi
with the Ministry of Health and other official agencies responsible for
public water suppliee and other asanities affecting the public, have been
continuous and though. Monitoring of the important sources of water
supply which aey b defected by atomic energy operations is not only in
th hands of the Ministry of Supply, but- paralleled in detail by the
forces of the Mindstry of Health and of t Conservancy Districts affected.
Buch aoceptQUOe of joint responsibility has not yet been consummated in
this country. As Opeations in the field of atomic energy are continually
expanding, and are already larger perhaps tbM those of any other industry
in the United Stal.e, the establishment of much official relationships is
desirable, not oay in the control of wastes, but in many other industrial
operations of potential significance to the general public.
Under the term of the British Radioactive Substances Act of 1948,
the Minister of Supply was given the right to form a committee to advise
him and the Ministry of Health on matters concerning radiation protection
Sir Henry Dale has Since been appointed chairman of the Radioactive Sub-
stances Advisory Ocnalttee on which the Ministers of Health of Scotland
and Northern IrelazAd also sit.
In the meantime, the Internatiomnal labour Office in Geneva has pro-
posed in the fall of 1949, a tentative model code of safety regulations
for use in industrial establishments for the guidance of governments and
Industry* Sna IG printed pages of this code are devoted to the subject
of "Dangerous nadlations." Whether this composite of existing and pro-
posed regulations is appropriate in any degree to the needs and practices
in this country the present authors do not know. That same official au-
thoritative criteria are needed, is recognized. a step. in some areas
are already being taken to work toward this goal..
GUDITI PRINCIPIES IN DISPOSAL
The detailed discussions oa wastes whiah feftov ara directed primarily
to the problem inherent In peacetime utiliation Cf ndfle r energy, as die-
tivnt from radiation dangers in an etais vwr,.6 ]b it poeaetime operations,
the following dicta appear treatable in go paewrt state of the art:
1. Permissible doses of radiation may be set forth authoritatively,
but are still subject to experimental and long-range check and develop-
2. Protective measures of practical and feasible character are
available, but their limitations are still unduly restrictive and expen-
sive and require further study.
3. The problem of.the disposal of radioactive wastes is still one
of the most important confronting the industry, even though great progress
has been made in identifying the issues and in improving the results of
4. wastes cannot be described as disposedd of" if their half-lives
are long and if they are simply transferred from one part of the globe to
5. Too little is now known about the biological effects in man to
risk a large scale pollution which would be difficult or impossible to
6. The Commission would like to get as near zero output of radio-
activity as it can obtain.8 Its activities are uniformly directed toward
TYPES AND SOURCES OF WASTES
The atomic energy industry, like any other industry, has its waste
products which must be disposed of properly both for the protection of its
workers and the public. On one score--radioactivity--its problems of
waste disposal are different and more complicated than those of most other
industries. On another--toxicity--its problems are both similar and dif-
ferent from those experienced by other industries.
The principal raw material used in the industry is uranium-bearing
ore. Many of the products sought result from nuclear chain reactions in
prepared uranium fuel material. Many of the wastes from the various inter-
mediate operations are radioactive, usually at progressively higher levels
as processing operations are carried out. An important feature of radio-
active waste products is that they emit radiations for varying periods,
ranging from seconds to thousands of years. At the place of storage or
the point of discharge, however, or even at some distance from either,
none of the characteristics usually associated with an objectionable waste
such as color and odor may be in evidence. None of the tests normally
indicative of a contaminant in air, water, or food and commonly applied
to other industrial wastes will reveal the presence of radioactivity.
Differences in properties and their significance and differences in methods
of detection of radioactive materials make the problems related to the dis-
posal of such wastes unique.
In addition to radioactive materials, the industry uses certain chem-
icals and chemical products which have toxic properties or acquire them in
processing. Waste products from these operations must also be disposed of
with great care. Among these items are fluorides, lead, beryllium, cya-
nides, and spent acids. In meeting such problems the experience of other
industries can be drawn on, although in same cases the products involved
are from rare metals whose properties in. relation to health have not been
too well understood.
In the research branch of the industry, as contrasted with the pro-
ucation branch, there are a wide variety of waste products ranging from
radioactive and chemically complicated wash waters from decontamination
laundries to the carcasses of animals used for biological experiments.
Mazn of these wastes present special and perplexing problems in disposal.
Low-lIvel Radioactive Wastes
In mining, transporting, and storing raw uranium ores some wastes as
losses will occur. Although their level of radioactivity is low, large
concentrations of such materials may give off sufficient rays to damage
human tissue if intimate exposure to them were to be too prolonged. Radon,
a decay product from the radium present may also be hazardous especially
when inhaled. Therefore, such wastes are under strict control. Losses
are reduced to the lowest possible amount. As in any mining industry care
must be taken in all operations to protect workers from exposure to the
dusts aand from prolonged intimate contact with the ore. With good indus-
trial housekeeping, proper handling, and use of dust control equipment
and ventilating facilities, .hazards associated with these products and
the wastes can be kept at a safe level.
In the drying, crushing, grinding, sieving, packaging, and shipping
of uranium are for subsequent chemical processing and in clean-up opera-
tions at such plants, waste products in the form of radioactive dusts and
washings will occur. This material can be kept under control by the in-
stallation of such facilities as cyclones, electrostatic precipitators,
bag and diaphragm filters, scrubbers, and settling facilities.
The chemical processing of the prepared uranium ore for the produc-
tion of its brown oxide (U02), its green salt (UF4), or the gaseous UF6
presents the ordinary problems of chemical industries which use toxic
solvents and extracting solutions and complicated reactors. Mists and
fumes must be controlled and contaminants removed by scrubbing, filtering,
or other suitable means to prevent atmospheric contamination which could
be hazardous to workers. Because of the value of the materials being proc-
essed systems are usually closed. The residues from the processing of
most uranium compounds have low-level, long-lived radioactivity. Storage
or disposal areas are carefully selected to prevent leaching from affect-
ing surface or ground water supplies used for domestic, industrial, or
Refined uranium metal, one of the end products of the chemical proc-
essing, is fabricated to proper shape for reactor fuel. This requires
rolling, extruding, machining, and other metallurgical treatments. In
these operations fumes of uranium oxide may be given off as atmospheric
contaminants. Therefore, rooms are ventilated. Exhaust gases are cleaned
by scrubbing or filtration or both. Water used in the cooling or clean-
up operations in such plants contains uranium dusts and chips. They are
reclaimable by settling in basins with or without chemical precipitation
or by filtration, and, therefore, need not contaminate any waterway or
High-Level Radioactive Wastes
The irradiated products of reactors contain high-level radioactivity.
These wastes have been called the ashes of the nuclear furnace but they
cannot be disposed of as ordinary ashes. The most highly radioactive
wastes are those remaining after the product desired, such as plutonium,
is removed from the irradiated fuel by chemical separations processes.
These wastes contain various fission products and inadequately irradiated
uranium. They are highly dangerous because of their radioactivity. They
are extremely valuable because of the recoverable uranium and other im-
portant maerials they contain. Currently, these highly dangerous wastes
are stored, but ways and means of recovering the valuable products in
them are subject to much investigation. After certain cycles of decon-
tamination have been completed the level of radioactive contamination
drops very materially. As in the case of other wastes, a point is finally
reached at which a decision must be made between the economics of further
decontamination and the realities as to public health risks involved in
release of these wastes to nature. Under present circumstances prudence
dictates a conservative course of action in favor of protection of public
The separations processes start with dissolving of the metallic con-
tainer in which the fuel was sealed for use in the pile. Then follow a
series of chemical treatments designed to separate the plutonium or other
product desired. These operations are carried out in specially designed
chemical treatment facilities set up in cells heavily shielded. Manip-
ulation of operating and control equipment within the cells is by remote
control. The cells and chemical treatment facilities are vented while in
use. Periodically, openings in normally closed systems are made for re-
pairs or for special charging and decontamination operations. Control
monitoring is essential for protection of workers.,
Waste off-gases from dissolver operations include nitrogen oxides
and radioactive fission products such as iodine, xenon, and krypton. Off-
gases are both corrosive and radioactive. For this reason, special con-
sideration is given to the selection of materials used in facilities for
their removal, treatment, and disposal. Because of cumulative radioac-
tivity high rate of obsolescence of equipment and difficulty in carrying
out routine maintenance are common. This makes the task of handling these
gases especially troublesome and expensive. Buildings in which dissolver
operations are carried out require special ventilation to safeguard workers.
Release of off-gases and cell and building ventilating air to the at-
mosphere even through high stacks is controlled carefully in order to pro-
tect plant and area operators and to prevent contamination of the air and
the ground when the airborne particles settle out. Under unfavorable at-
mospheric conditions such as looping, inversion or low-wind velocity, dis-
solving operations could result in serious contamination in the area of
the stacks or vents from which gaseous effluents are discharged were con-
trols not in effect.
In water-cooled reactors of the flow-through type such as those at
the Hanford Works on the Columbia River, one of the important wastes is
the cooling water. This water becomes irradiated by the neutrons which
are emitted in the fission processes. It is because of this induced
radioactivity that the water must be pretreated so that it contains no
objectionable dissolved or suspended matter. This matter, when irra-
diated, would carry long-lived radioactivity back to the river where the
cooling water is discharged after a period of retention. The retention
period is sufficiently long to allow induced radioactivity in the water
to deteriorate to levels considered to be safe. Irradiated fuel as
ejected from the reactors is discharged into temporary receiving basins
in which water is used as a shield. Later, after transfer from the re-
actor basins, the fuel is stored elsewhere in holding basins through
which water flows continuously. The waste water in these basins may con-
tain some radioactivity depending on the condition of the fuel element
after discharge from the reactor.
In an air-cooled reactor such as that at Brookhaven the principal
atmospheric contaminant is radioactive argon which has a half-life of
110 min. As in the case of water for water-cooled reactors, the cooling
air is cleansed and freed of particulate matter which, on exposure to
neutrons in the reactor, would become radioactive.
Other gaseous contaminants are the discharges from ventilation hoods
in process or research laboratories. Unless decontaminated or discharged
high enough over the roofs of buildings to provide for effective dilution
in the atmosphere, such discharges could contaminate roofs and thereby
create hazards for maintenance workers. Under unfavorable meteorological
conditions they could, if they were not subject to controls, build up con-
siderable contamination of the atmosphere in the vicinity of their dis-
In laboratories, whether of the production or research type, a wide
variety of wastes may result depending on the nature of the work carried
out. Usually product containing high levels of radiation is worked in
separate units of the laboratory. Here remote control facilities are used,
monitoring is strict and a high degree of accountability is enforced. The
amount of waste in product is exceedingly small. Equipment, instruments,
and glassware may in time become contaminated by radioactivity to such a
degree that normal decontamination methods are inadequate. Then they must
be taken out of service and be allocated to waste storage. In research
laboratories--chemical, biological, metallurgical, or general--where
radioactive materials of intermediate or low-levels of activity are han-
dled, the waste problem exists and precautions in monitoring and disposal
In the laundering of special clothing worn in the laboratories a con-
siderable volume of low-level waste results which is difficult to treat
because of the special detergents and decontaminants used. Such wastes
often contain citrates and phosphates and their treatment from the stand-
point of disposal presents a difficult problem. In the various laboratory
operations waste of such items as paper, gloves, glassware, and biologic
specimens containing various levels of radioactivity accumulate in con-
siderable amounts. They must be kept in separate containers which are
monitored regularly. Combustible wastes cannot be disposed of by burning,
as normal laboratory waste of this kind would be gotten rid of, unless
provision is made to decontaminate the gases of combustion.
If for one reason or another, it is desired to wreck a building which
has become contaminated by long-lived radioactive material, demolition
work must be carried out under the constant supervision of radiomonitors.
Working time is limited by the amount of exposure received. Added protec-
tion can be given to workers by covering the contaminated surfaces by a
suitable paint or other material. Material removed in the wrecking opera-
tions, if radioactive, cannot be disposed of through normal salvage chan-
nels. Pibsible methods of disposal include storage, burial, or burning,
as will be discussed elsewhere.
The use of large amounts 'of acid and alkali solvents and chemical
extraction solutions present a problem of health safety in use and control.
These systems are usually closed and the chemicals are reclaimed, but ul-
timately spent liquors and residues must be disposed of. Very substantial
amounts of fluorine are used in chemical processing and the disposal of
wastes containing compounds of this element requires careful consideration.
Among the many rare metals which have a usefulness in this new industry
beryllium presents special problems. Hazards related to the use of this
element is fluorescent lamps is familiar to most industrial hygienists.
Cases of beryllium poisoning among employees at plants using this material
and among residents in the vicinity of one plant in particular have given
emphasis to the importance of beryllium. In metallurgy the use of cyanides
and pther toxic chemicals present waste disposal problems similar to those
of other industries.
PRESENT PRACTICES IN HANDLING RADIOACTIVE WASTES
In a review of present practice in the atomic energy industry in
handling and disposing of wastes it is helpful to consider them in the
solid, liquid, and gaseous states. Currently the problems of treatment
and disposal are more acute in relation to liquid and gaseous wastes. Ul-
timately, however, the problems of disposal of solid wastes having long
radioactive half-lives may prove to be the most difficult to resolve.
This is because the trend is toward removal of radioactive decontaminants
from gases and liquids and reducing their volume to a solid or near solid
state for permanent disposal; and also because certain solid wastes such
as construction materials and chemical equipment are voluminous.
Wastes such as dusts, chips, and particles of product collected in
quantities by dust removal and reclamation facilities usually are returned
to supply or are reconditioned for use. In ore grinding and sieving and
at chemical and metallurgical plants, cyclones, bag filters, and electro-
static precipitators are used. The behavior of radioactive particulate
matter in dust removal facilities in not necessarily the same as nonradio-
active material. Furthermore, in design of such equipment ease of access
for maintenance and repair needs to be given special consideration because
exposure of workmen to radioactive dusts must be for limited periods. The
special condition of cumulative radioactive contamination is being studied
further. Research work along these lines has been recommended.
Residual sludges from the chemical processing of uranium ores at con-
tract chemical plants which usually have low levels of radioactivity are
stored temporarily at the plants in steel drums. At frequent intervals,
they are shipped in special cars to a central storage base under control
of the Commission. These wastes are held in concrete tanks which prevent
leaching into the ground or spillage to affect surface water sources. They
have potential reclamation value and are sampled and monitored regularly.
At major operating areas such as Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos
isolated burial grounds have been designated for the disposal of solid
wastes which are radioactive. These wastes are collected locally and may
also be received by shipment from various laboratory and operating areas.
Such wastes consist of glassware, gloves, contaminated boxes, equipment,
pipes9fittings, and miscellaneous materials. The earth cover over these
burial pits is usually 12 ft and the surface is monitored regularly. The
area is fenced in, and is posted a contaminated area by a conspicuous sign.
In case of long-lived contamination, it is not uncommon to mix such mate-
rials with concrete prior to burial. At one west coast research laboratory
low-level solid wastes of various kinds are mixed with concrete in steel
drums and disposed of by dumping in deep waters many miles from shore.
Equipment or construction material which may have value, but has been
removed because it is too radioactive to be used with safety or which is
too bulky for disposal by burial is usually stored above ground in a
fenced-off storage yard, well marked and regularly monitored. In time,
after decay of the radioactivity some of this material and equipment may
be safe for reuse or for sale through commercial channels.
At the present time the Commission has in storage large quantities of
highly radioactive uranium-bearing and fission-product wastes resulting
from the separation and decontamination of plutonium. Storage is in buried
tanks of steel and concrete construction. This method of disposal is very
expensive indeed. Extensive and promising research work has been carried
out on ways and means of reclaiming the available uranium in certain of
these wastes and other valuable material in the decontamination wastes.
At the Hanford Works the storage for years of the decontaminated
wastes has permitted decay of radioactivity to a point where disposal to
the ground by cribbing has been practical as a temporary measure. It has
been observed that a large amount of the radioactive wastes which were
cribbed have become attached to the soil and have become fixed in place
in the vicinity of the crib. The effect of discharge of these wastes is
ascertained by monitoring regularly through wells drilled around and under
the cribs. Observation wells on a defined pattern around and at varying
distances from the cribs permit studies to be made of the geology in the
general area and an evaluation of the direction and rate of movement of
the ground water from the contaminated zones.
On leaving the Hanford reactors the cooling water contains many high-
level but short-lived radioisotopes, After several hours of storage in
open reinforced concrete retention basins they lose their activity. The
effluent from the basin is monitored regularly. The treatment of the water
prior to use in the pile is such that on release from the basin about 80
per cent of the radioactivity present in the water is due to Na23. The
dilutio; of the effluent water in the Columbia River is very great. After
much study of the problem the health physicists at the Hanford Works have
expressed the opinion that there is no radioactive contamination of the
river of public health significance to existing downstream users of the
river as a source of water supply.
As in other open reservoirs, in areas of prolonged sunshine, there is
a prolific growth of algae in these retention basins. There is evidence
that the algae in the basins and in the river are not adversely affected
by this radioactivity; also that they pick up and concentrate raudoactivity
in their systems. Similarly biologic growths in the river and its bed be-
low the cooling water outlets are unaffected by and actually pick up con-
siderable amounts of radioactivity. The effect of this concentration on
fish life and on other organisms in the biological chain is under in-
At Oak Ridge uranium bearing wastes have been stored for years in
underground tanks, the metal being precipitated by special chemicals.
Other highly radioactive but nonuranium bearing wastes from the produc-
tion of isotopes, from the various laboratories and from solutions brought
in from other operating areas are also stored in underground tanks. These
storage tanks also receive the decanted supernatant from the tanks storing
the uranium-bearing wastes, After decay to a suitable level the wastes
are released to an open retention basin in which further decay takes place.
After monitoring these low-level wastes discharge to White Oak Creek and
thence to the Clinch, a tributary of the Tennessee River. As at Hanford,
algae grow prolifically in these basins.
Operations are directed to limit the activity of discharge to the
Clinch River to 25 curies per week or not in excess of 1 microcurie per
liter. These levels are considered to be safe. In September 1949, equip-
ment was installed at the ORNL to evaporate tha high-level radioactive
wastes stored in underground tanks. This test facility has a demonstrated
decontamination factor that has made it unnecessary to install additional
waste storage tanks.
At Los Alamos liquid wastes from production and research areas where
radioactive materials are handled and from a laundry where clothing of
production and laboratory workers is decontaminated are discharged into
the deep canyons. In the production area and the laundry the wastes pass
through surface filter beds constructed some years ago using native soils
of tufa. As a result of clogging, the efficiency of these beds which was
once high has deteriorated. In flow down the side of the canyon wall and
in the bed of the canyon adsorption of radioactivity in the soil is re-
ported to be high.
The Geological Survey is now cooperating by making a study of the
geology of these canyons in an effort to trace the effect, if any, on
ground water of these disposal practices. The canyons in the vicinity of
these disposal areas are fanced in and posted as contaminated areas. They
are monitored regularly. The Public Health Service is cooperating with
the AEC and the University of California in research to develop better
methods of treating all of these waters prior to disposal.
At the newer national laboratories at Argonne (near Chicago) and
Brookhaven (on Long Island) liquid wastes are to be stored in underground
tanks pending further research as to more suitable and economical methods
of disposal. At the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory near Schenectady,
evaporation of wastes is being carried out effectively.
A very substantial amount of progress has been made in the control
and removal of contamination from gaseous effluents resulting from atomic
Originally it was thought that by installation of ventilation systems
within the buildings and high stacks for release of effluents from the
chemical separations operations at production areas dilution in the atmos-
phere would be sufficient to prevent radioactive contamination of the
working areas and vicinity from becoming a serious health factor. It was
expected that the principal contaminant would be radioiodine (1131) having
a half-life of 8.0 days. Experience and meteorological research have
shown, however, that during periods of unfavorable atmospheric conditions
dissolver operations could not be carried on without contamination in ex-
cess of that which was considered safe at and in the vicinity of the work'
ing areas near the stacks. In the light of these findings when meteoro-
logical conditions are unfavorable for atmospheric dilution, dissolving
operations are suspended. Early in the operations, field monitoring in-
dicated that deposition of radioactive iodine on vegetation was taking
place. The later finding of radioactive particulate matter on the ground
in the vicinity of the stacks served to stimulate special interest in the
problem and ways and means of resolving it. The record of appraising
this situation at the Hanford Works- and of subsequently developing control
measures is an outstanding one. Effective ways of reducing this contami-
nation include the installation of fibrous filters in the exhaust venti-
lation system of each cell, scrubbing the dissolver off-gases, and fil-
tering the final effluent through sand beds prior to discharge to the
stack. The Commission recognized the importance of this stack gas problem
and in May 1948, appointed a special working group consisting of seven
outside experts in atmospheric pollution from industry and universities
to advise it and to assist the technical staff in the various areas in
their problems. This group has been instrumental in suggesting and in
carrying out research programs which are discussed elsewhere in this paper.
The Chemical Warfare Service has been most helpful in supplying the
Commission and its contractors with a fibrous filter material it had de-
veloped and in manufacturing filter assemblies in various sizes to meet
specifications for use in production areas and laboratories. Represent-
atives of manufacturers of air cleaning equipment and outside research
laboratories have also been most helpful.
It is most important that air used to ventilate areas where radio-
active materials are being processed or used to cool reactors be as free
of particulate matter as possible. Pretreatment such as filtration is
most desirable. Contaminants evolving from chemical processing should
be removed as near as possible to their point of origin and not be per-
mitted to enter larger ventilating streams from which their removal may
be quite expensive.
In an air-cooled reactor there is always the possibility of a leak
of irradiated material from the fuel container. About a year ago pro-
vision was made at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the installation
of special fibrous diaphragm filters in the effluent line between the
reactor and the stack. The results obtained from use of these filters
have been highly gratifying with removal efficiencies in excess of 99 per
Since May 1948, the Commission has insisted that all radioactive con-
taminants be removed from gaseous effluents. Most of the installations
are meeting this provision by the installation of the Chemical Warfare
type fibrous filter in the stream of the ventilation systems. In some
cases other decontamination facilities such as electrostatic precipi-
tators or glass wool roughing filters are installed in advance of the
terminal filters. The installation of these facilities in new and
existing plants has cost a large sum of money, but it is a justifiable
expense in the interest of workers and the public.. In new laboratories
where work involving materials of high, intermediate, or low levels of
radioactivity is used, as well as nonradioactive materials, it is cus-
tomary to segregate the working areas. Space ventilation is maintained
at various pressures so that leakage is always from a low-level area to
a higher one. Monitoring of the ventilating air is carried out contin-
uously. New hoods are designed to give uniform flow of air across the
working area under all conditions; and each hood has its own filters in
addition to those in the main influent and effluent systems. At one of
the laboratories all work on radioactive materials is carried out in dry
boxes rather than in special hoods. The effluent air from each box is
WASTES RESULTING FROM RADIOISOTOPE DISTRIBUTION PROGRAM
The disposal of waste resulting from the use of radioactive isotopes
is an important issue which confronts the industry. The quantity of radio-
active material involved is insignificant in comparison with that in the
waste products at production plants. The distribution of the isotopes is,
however, widespread. They may be used by a great number of people not
under the immediate and continuing supervision of health physics monitors.
Nearly 10,000 shipments of isotopes have been made to date for use in re-
search in medicine, biology, bacteriology, chemistry, pharmacology, mete-
orology, metallurgy, and a variety of industrial operations.. Shipments
have been made to all states of the union and to many foreign countries.
To date the principal interest has been in isotopes having relatively
short half-lives such as p32 (14.3 days), Na24 (14.8 hr), 1131 (8.0 days),
and Co0 (5.3 years). However, there has been some use of Cl4 with a
half-life of 5,000 years.
It is clear that personnel working with these isotopes must be fa-
miliar with the hazards involved in their use and in their disposal. If
radioactive wastes were to be disposed of by flushing into the normal
plumbing facilities at a laboratory or hospital this practice might create
a series of problems. Pipes, traps, and other units in the plumbing sys-
tem could become contaminated and this could result in an overexpnrsire
to radioactivity by maintenance personnel. As a liquid contaminant of
institutional plumbing system radioactivity becomes a new hazard to be
considered in the cross connecting of water and sewer piping. Then there
is the problem of the effect of radioactivity in the public sewers system
and the sewage treatment methods used, some of which depend on sensitive
biochemical processes. It is known that the slimes normally found in
sewer pipes and drains will adsorb and concentrate radioactivity from
liquid wastes flowing through the pipes.
Public health and public works officials are much concerned over the
effect of this new contaminant and research projects are underway to assist
in getting answers to some of the questions they have raised.
The AEC Isotope Division assures itself of the competence of users of
these materials, and through its circular 3-6 it has given interim recom-
mendations for the disposal of radioactive wastes by off-commission users.
In the case of radioliodine and radiophosphorus it recommends that the
daily volume of water flowing from the sewage outlet of the institution
to the main sewer be sufficient to dilute these isotopes to 0.5 and 0.1
microcuries per liter respectively; also, that the maximum activity dis-
posed of from any one institution not exceed 200 millicuries per week. In
the case of radiophosphorus it recommends that each millicurie be diluted
with 10 g of phosphorus as phosphate at the time of each discharge. For
disposal by burial in a selected area with 5 ft of earth cover, it recom-
mends dilution with a stable isotope of the same chemical element and in
the same form to the extent that 4.15 ergs are dissipated per gram of
element per day.
It is clearly recognized that the problems involved in the handling,
transportation, use, and disposal of radioisotopes are important and have
possibilities of becoming more vexing as the use of these materials be-
comes more common. 'A subcommittee on Waste Disposal and Decontamination
has been established by the National Committee on Radiation Protection
and a report from that committee is in preparation.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Substantial progress has been made- in the atomic energy industry in
attacking, on all fronts, problems of waste disposal. Research and develop-
ment work has been carried out under Commission sponsorship by the technical
staffs of contractors at production areas and the research laboratories,
by contracts with outside consultants and universities and in cooperation
with federal and other public agencies interested and concerned in atomic
wastes. Practical methods of reclaiming uranium from stored wastes have
been developed and some facilities for carrying out these processes already
are under construction. The era of storage of large volumes of high-level
wastes at exceedingly high costs is coming to a close.
Early in the growth of the industry research with columns using natural
soils at Hanford and Los Alamos showed how effective such media were in
adsorbing radioactivity. Later. numerous studies of ion exchange material
were madefthich demonstrated high efficiencies in decontamination of radio-
active wastes. These processes were not, however, found to be entirely
efficient in removing certain long-lived fission products. Then also,
there was the problem of handling final disposal of the exchange material
During the past year much interest has developed in evaporation as a
means of reducing volume and decontaminating liquid wastes. Decontamina-
tion factors with substantial volume reduction have been demonstrated as
practical. At Los Alamos biochemical methods (using activated sludge) of
decontaminating low-level radioactive solutions of plutonium have been
studied on a limited basis in a cooperative program with the University
of California and the Public Health Service, Results show that more than
95 per cent removal can be effected in a single stage of treatment. One
or more additional stages would, it is believed, give almost complete re-
moval. Using aluminum or iron compounds as coagulants followed by plain
settling and filtration through sand, efficiencies of decontamination in
excess of 99 per cent are indicated. Pretreatment for adjustment of pH
to above 10.0 is indicated if the wastes contain such dispersing agents
as citrates or phosphates. The reduction in volume and ultimate disposal
of the resulting denatured sludges has yet to be worked out. Effective
and economical methods of recovery of radioactive materials by extraction
processes are being sought.
Intensive research is in progress to develop an incinerator which
will be efficient and effective in reducing combustible solid material or
dried sludges to low volume ash and in decontaminating the products of
combustion. Contracts for such research and development have been placed
with outside experts in combustion problems. It is proposed in some
cases that the ash be mixed with a dense concrete for ultimate disposal
by burial or at sea. The Bureau of Mines through its combustion Research
Laboratory has been asked to appraise this problem in the various areas
and to give special attention to the development of a small incinerator
for the disposal of radioactive solid wastes at research institutions
using radioactive isotopes:
It has been clearly demonstrated that in the decontamination of
radioactive gaseous effluents further research must be carried out to
determine the character and distribution of particle sizes in various
wastes and their types of radioactivity. Contracts have been placed for
basic research of the properties of aerosols of special interest to the
industry in relation to its gaseous wastes, their properties and behavior.
The Army Chemical Corps filter medium has been studied for a variety .
of uses in the industry. The Corps and outside consultants have devel-
oped assemblies of Oarious sizes for use of this paper in laboratories
and production plants. A substitute filter paper using more readily avail-
able fibrous material has been developed and its properties are being in-
vestigated. It is to be expected that in the near future assembly units
for general use within and outside the industry will be manufactured by
commercial firms. Substitute filter media such as glass fibers have been
studied and offer much promise especially as prefilters and where high
temperatures are encountered.
Because air cleaning equipment used in dealing with radioactive wastes
may ultimately become highly contaminated with radioactive material, it is
important that special consideration be given in design to the important
feature of accessibility for maintenance without exposure of employees.
Research is planned which will give special consideration to the perform-
ance of standard air cleaning equipment under the conditions which pre-
vail in the atomic energy industry with the objective of working with
manufacturers in making such changes in assembly as may be needed for
this unique service. Included in such studies will be such equipment as
cyclones, bag, diaphragm and deep bed filters, scrubbers, sonic agglam-
erators, and electrostatic precipitators.
The Sanitary Engineering Departments of The Johns Hopkins and New
York universities have contracts with AEC for the study of the effect of
radioactive isotopes on the biologic slimes commonly found in sewers and
of significance in sewage treatment. The Massachusetts Institute of Tech-
nology, Department of Sanitary Engineering has a contract to investigate
the effectiveness of standard methods of water purification in removing
radioactivity from water. A similar research contract is being developed
for work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in cooperation with the
Department of Defense and the Public Health Service.
The Geological Survey has for over a year carried out research at
the Hanford Works in cooperation with the ABC and the General Electric
Company to determine the effect of the disposal of radioactive wastes by
cribbing on the ground waters in the area. That agency is conducting
similar studies in the canyons at Los Alamos and is cooperating with the
Department of Geology, University of Tennessee in an investigation of the
extent of underground pollution, if any, from the waste storage tanks and
waste disposal basins, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The University of Washington is conducting extensive research on the
effect of discharge of radioactive cooling water from the reactors at the
Hanford Works on the algae, diatoms, and other biological growth in waters
of the Columbia River and on the river bed.
The Weather Bureau has conducted special surveys of meteorologic con-
ditions at and in the vicinity of production areas and national labora-
tories as related to the spread of radioactive contaminants from stacks
and hoods should unusual conditions develop in the release and control of
gaseous effluents from industry operations.
The problems which arise in the disposal wastes of this new industry
require careful appraisal within and outside the industry from the stand-
point of personal and public health, economics of treatment and reclama-
tion of product where practical. Within the industry they are being given
a great deal of consideration and much money has been and is being spent
providing facilities for handling these wastes properly; and also for de-
veloping facts on which to develop better methods of resolving the waste
disposajcomplex. Outside the areas of the industry's operation these
problems are of special interest and concern to public officials respon-
sible for the quality and safety of surface and ground water resources and
the purity of the air we breathe and the food we eat. Although disposal
of wastes from this new industry is but one of the many of its fascinating
facets of activity, it is an important one and one which holds out a chal-
lenge to the chemical engineer, the sanitary engineer, the biochemist, and
the biologist. Their respective interests and opportunities are manifold
and through good teamwork current and future problems of waste disposal
can be partly or completely solved. Indeed, the future growth of this
new industry from the developmental stage to that of applied use of its
products may well hinge on its ability to find increasingly effective and
reasonably economical methods of disposal of its hazardous waste products.
1. Alan Gregg, "Atomic Energy and the Life Sciences", U. S. Atomic
Energy Commission, July 1949.
2. David G. Cogan, S. Forrest Martin, and Samuel J. Kimura, Atom
Bomb Cataracts, Science, 110:No. 2868, 654 (1949).
3. P. H. Abelson and P. G. Kruger, Cyclotron Induced Radiation
Cataracts, Science, 110:No. 2868, 655 (1949).
4. Forrest Western, Problems of Radioactive Waste Disposal, Nucleonics,
3:2, 43 (1948).
5. G. W. Monier-Williams, "Trace Elements in Food", John Wiley, 1949.
6. Bernard S. Wolf, Medical Aspects of Radiation Safety, Nucleonics,
3:4, 25 (1948).
7. R. E. Lapp and H. L. Andrews, Health Physics, Nucleonics, 3:3,
8. Shields Warren, Waste Disposal Symposium, Nucleonics, 4:3, 13 (1949).
9. Fourth Semi-Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission, January
1949. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.
10. Sixth Semi-Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission, July 1949.
U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.
11. "Atomic Energy Development 1947-48", U. S. Atomic Energy Commission,
U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.
12. "Handling Radioactive Wastes in the Atomic Energy Program" TT. S.
Atomic Energy Commission, October 1949. U. S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, D. C.
13. K. Z. Morgan, "Radioactive Contamination and Control", Atomic Energy
Commission Seminar on Waste Disposal, Washington, D. C., January 24-
14. Digest of Proceedings, Seminar on the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes,
Washington, D. C., January 24-25, Atomic Energy Comuission.
15. Interim Recommendations for the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes by
Off-Commission Users, Isotopes Division Circular B-6, Atomic Energy
Commission, Isotopes Division, Box E, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
16. K. Z. Morgan, Hazards Presented by Radioactive Materials and How
to Cope with them", U. S. Naval Bulletin, Supplement, Page 142-160,
17. K. Z. Morgan, Protection Against Radiation Hazards and Maximum Allow-
able Exposure Values, J. Ind. Hy& and:ToxicoL., 30:286-93 (1948).
18. H. M. Parker, "Health Physles, Instrumentation and Radiation Protection,"
MCC-783. Technical information Divisionl Atomic Energy Cnmission,
P. 0. Box E, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
19. A, A. Levy, Some Aspects of the Design of Radiochemical Laboratories,
Chem. Eng. News, 24:3168 (1946).
20. W. H. Sullivan, Control of Radioactive Hazards, Chem. Eng. News,
21. WO E. Cohn, Toxicity af Inhaled or Ingested Radioactive Products,
3:21-22 (July 1948).
22. Symposium on Radiochemistry Laboratories, Ind. Eng. Chem. 41:228-50
23. Glossary of Scientific Terms Relating to Atomic Energy, U. S. Atomic
Energy Commission, Washington, D. C.
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