Radioactive waste disposal plans set




EW methods to dispose of Bahrain’s radioactive waste are being drawn up with help from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The two-year programme will come up with ways to deal with radioactive materials generated by the refinement of oil and gas, in collaboration with the Supreme Council for the Environment (SCE).

It is focusing on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) found in the earth’s crust, which becomes even more toxic as a result of the refinement process.

“NORM is a worldwide issue that the IAEA is concerned about,” explained SCE environmental assessment and control directorate senior environmental specialist Hassan Al Najar, who is overseeing the two-year programme.

“In Bahrain, the high levels of NORM usually come from the oil and gas industry.

“There is naturally occurring radiation everywhere – in sand, rock and soil – and during production of these (oil and gas) there is a build-up of NORM in the pipes.

“These pipes over time will emit higher than background levels of radiation, which is where NORM can get dangerous.”

Bahrain completed its first Gamma-ray spectroscopy lab two months ago, but there are currently no measures in place to dispose of NORM once they reach potentially dangerous levels.

“We as a country have no way of dealing with NORM,” said Mr Al Najar.

“We have a policy about radioactive products that are used by certain industries. Basically, anyone using radioactive material has to send the waste product back to its country of origin, but these NORM are locally produced so we can’t send them back anywhere.

“This is a new issue for us, but a landfill specially designed to hold that kind of material is being discussed.

“That idea is not definite – if we can find countries that will cost-effectively handle the waste, then we will consider it too.”

Since Bahrain is not yet equipped to handle such materials, oil and gas companies have to constantly monitor thousands of kilometres of piping to make sure no equipment ever becomes dangerously radioactive.

“We don’t have a significant amount of NORM in the Bahrain field and we have surveys that occur frequently where we go out and measure to detect any levels,” said Tatweer Petroleum land management manager Bari Sadler.

“There have been very few incidents where there has been a below background level of NORM.

“If we identify any piece of equipment that has NORM [even approaching background levels] it is immediately decommissioned.”

He explained that as long as equipment was decommissioned before it becomes radioactive, there was no need for special isolation.

“It takes a long time for NORM to accumulate on equipment in the field – decades,” said Mr Sadler.

“[The checks of NORM] are constant because you can imagine we have thousands of kilometres of pipeline and tonnes of vessels, so it is just the daily constant checks.

“We are constantly canvassing for the safety elements of the field.

“That is the point when we do the surveys, we catch it before it gets above those background levels.”

The two-year programme in conjunction with the IAEA commenced with a workshop at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry and was led by SCE chief executive Dr Mohamed Bin Daina.


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