The roles and responsibilities of the Oregon Department of Energy are so varied that it is difficult to articulate all of what we do in a few sentences. Our agency is active in developing state energy policy, advancing energy conservation and efficiency for Oregonians, and we play a lead role in the siting of large energy facilities across Oregon. But there is so much more under the hood.
A little-known, six-person team at ODOE carries out the duties of the Nuclear Safety and Emergency Preparedness Program, led by Assistant Director Ken Niles. One of the areas they work on is the Radioactive Waste Transport Program, which started in 1981.
Here are six things you probably did not know about this program:
- Small amounts of radioactive materials travel through the state on a daily basis. Radioactive materials are used at hospitals and medical centers, road construction sites, and universities, among other places.
- For decades, waste shipments going to the Hanford nuclear site for burial made up a significant percentage of the radioactive shipments traveling through Oregon. A moratorium on most of these shipments went into effect in 2004.
- The Navy disposes reactor compartments of nuclear powered submarines and cruisers by shipping them via barge up the Columbia River to Hanford for eventual burial. Since the program began in 1986, 131 compartments have been sent to Hanford.
- Between 2000 and 2011, Hanford shipped 649 truckloads of a particular type of radioactive waste called “transuranic” to a geologic disposal site in New Mexico. Although shipments may not resume until the mid-2020s, eventually another 6,500 or so shipments are expected.
- Spent nuclear fuel from the former Trojan nuclear power plant will eventually be transported through Oregon to a deep geologic disposal facility. Those shipments are expected to be made by rail, and will likely travel through the Portland metropolitan area. However, the project is still a long way off, and the state will likely have several years to prepare.
- The Oregon Department of Energy works with the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Motor Carrier Transportation Division to issue permits to waste haulers. ODOT conducts inspections and collects data on shipments as they pass through the state’s ports of entry. ODOE also works with Oregon Health Authority’s Radiation Protection Services to provide training to emergency responders around the state, and these two agencies work closely together to ensure a swift and appropriate response in the event of an emergency.