Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has given itself a Categorical Exclusion (CX) under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the removal, relocation, and examination of transuranic (TRU) waste drums at Waste Control Specialists (WCS). These drums are similar to the ones that forced WIPP to close in 2014. LANL officials decided that formal environmental assessments, with public input, of the movement of the possibly exploding waste drums are not needed.
The CX states that removal and relocation will initially be from a buried underground location to an aboveground facility at the same site (WCS) to conduct inspections and further characterize the waste. This work will lead toward removal and relocation of the drums. DOE no doubt hopes to ship the waste to WIPP
On February 14, 2014, due to an improperly packed waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that exploded, a radiation release occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). In response, the DOE suspended operations at the WIPP for three years at a cost of upwards of a billion of dollars. About 60 miles away from WIPP, WCS operates a facility in Andrews County, Texas, that was licensed to process and store certain types of radioactive wastes.
In April 2014, WCS began receiving waste drums from WIPP that both WCS and DOE believed were safe to ship. Because the underground at WIPP was unsafe, WCS began storing the transuranic waste that originated at LANL, and which was destined to be disposed of at WIPP. In June 2014, WCS learned from DOE that some of the LANL waste being temporarily stored at WCS might be similar to the waste that was the cause of the WIPP explosion. In response, WCS moved some of the LANL waste to a safer disposal cell onsite at WCS for temporary storage.
The categorical exclusion does not mention the actual number of these drums at WCS. Documents show that at least 113 suspect drums were shipped to WCS in April 2014. Some of those drums were (possibly up to ½) were re-characterized as not dangerous and have been shipped to WIPP for disposal. DOE currently has permission to store the remaining possibly explosive drums at the WCS site until December 23, 2022.
Treatment of these drums at WCS is currently not possible because WCS is basically a storage and disposal facility, not a treatment facility.
DOE must continue to keep the public informed about investigations and plans to treat and/or ship these drums. If treatment is needed, DOE must withdraw the CX and start the NEPA process. DOE must not decide that the untreated drums are safe to ship to WIPP only because they have not exploded yet.
Removal, Relocation, and Examination of Remaining Transuranic (TRU) Waste at Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS), EMID-701768, 11-22-2021 The Categorical Exclusion is HERE
Written Concurrence for Correction of Waste Manifests for Waste Shipped to Waste Control Specialists Facility, August 14, 2014 The list of drum shipped to WCS is HERE