BUCHANAN — In a few weeks, the Indian Point nuclear power plant will no longer ship low-level radioactive waste to a disposal facility in Barnwell, S.C.
In fact, it won't be shipping it anywhere because there's nowhere else to ship it. Starting July 1, Indian Point will have to store its waste somewhere on-site, indefinitely.
The radioactive trash in question is classified as Class B or C waste. This type of contaminated material may include small items, such as clothing worn by workers at the power plant, or major mechanical parts, including nuclear reactor vessels and steam generators.
What is low-level radioactive waste?
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, low-level radioactive waste includes items that have become contaminated with radioactive material or have become radioactive through exposure to neutron radiation.
This waste typically includes contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipment and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues.
The most intensely radioactive wastes are typically found in water treatment residues, discarded parts from nuclear reactors (such as reactor vessels and steam generators) and small gauges containing radioactive material.
Class A waste generally contains lower concentrations of radioactive material than Class B and C wastes.
Barnwell, S.C., is the only facility currently accepting Class B and C wastes. Starting July 1, it will only accept waste from three states: South Carolina, Connecticut and New Jersey. Current Barnwell customers from New York will now need to store their Class B and C waste on-site or find another location.
The 235-acre disposal facility in Barnwell, built and operated by a company called EnergySolutions, has been accepting waste — more than 28 million cubic feet of it — from across the country for more than 35 years.
Thirty-nine states, including New York, currently ship waste to South Carolina. Indian Point contributes approximately 100 cubic feet of trash annually, plant spokeswoman Robyn Bentley said.
Beginning next month, Barnwell will only accept waste from South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut — members of the Atlantic Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Compact. The rest will have to fend for themselves.
Entergy Nuclear, the New Orleans-based company that owns and operates Indian Point, plans to keep its waste in a storage building attached to reactor Unit 3. The storage building, which was built in the 1980s by the plant's previous owners, might need to undergo some upgrades, Bentley said.
"It's really not a headache," she added, "It's something that we've anticipated."
The rest of the state, and the country, might not have it so good. Nuclear power plants aren't the only businesses that produce radioactive waste.
Hospitals, factories and laboratories will also be looking for new places to put their trash, and in the run-up to Barnwell's change, no new facilities were constructed.