What are the potential environmental impacts from disposal of depleted uranium as an oxide?
Disposal as oxide could result in adverse impacts to air, water, and soil quality as a result of construction activities. Potential air quality impacts would be from particulate matter, such impacts could be controlled by good construction practices. Also, construction activities have the potential to result in surface water, groundwater, or soil contamination through spills of construction chemicals. However, by following good engineering practices, concentrations in soil and wastewater (and therefore surface water and groundwater) could be kept well within applicable standards or guidelines.
Although design criteria are such that disposal facilities would not be expected to fail (i.e., release material to the environment) until several hundred years after closure, for purposes of analysis, it was assumed that a disposal facility would fail 100 years after closure. If the disposal facility was located in a dry environment (typical of the western United States), no measurable groundwater contamination would have occurred even by 1,000 years after facility failure, because of the small amount of rainfall and large distance to the groundwater table typical of a dry environment. Over the long-term (e.g., 1000 years), disposal as uranium oxide in a wet environment could result in groundwater contamination. If the contaminated groundwater discharged to nearby surface waters, aquatic biota might be exposed to elevated concentrations of uranium, possibly resulting in adverse chemical effects. Adverse effects would not be associated with disposal in a dry environment.
Disposal could require excavation of large quantities of soil and rock. Impacts from the excavated materials could be mitigated by contouring and reseeding, or by trucking the excavated material off-site. Additionally, depending on the form chosen for disposal (i.e., grouted or ungrouted, UO2 or U3O8), disposal as an oxide could require a large land area, ranging from 40 acres for disposal as ungrouted UO2 in a vault up to 590 acres for disposal as grouted U3O8 in a mine.
For disposal as oxide, the LLW volumes requiring disposal would represent an addition of about 3 to 10% to the projected DOE complex-wide LLW disposal volume, which could have a moderate adverse impact on DOE's waste management system.
No other adverse impacts from disposal were identified for the areas evaluated. Socioeconomic impacts are evaluated in terms of jobs and income generated, which are considered positive impacts. Disposal was estimated to result in about 130 to 950 direct jobs and the generation of about $10 to $60 million in direct income per operational year.
(For more details on the environmental risks from disposal, see also Section 2.4 and Appendix I of the PEIS.)
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