DOE Fails to Make Minimum Payment on Environmental Cleanup

Last I looked, the Cold War ended 18 years ago. We won. OK, I used to think we won, but there is still a big debt that needs to be paid off before any victory party.

The Department of Energy’s Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2009 (Pg.52) gives some sobering figures. Even with extra Recovery funding ($5.1 billion) and all the usual appropriations (about $6 billion) the Department’s “total unfunded environmental cleanup and disposal liabilities” still increased by over $1 billion in 2009. The current estimate for the cleanup of environmental contamination resulting from past operations of the nuclear weapons complex is $262.7 billion. Given that this estimate will surely increase yearly, at this rate, DOE will pay off its existing Cold War environmental liability, well…never.

Yet the Department continues on a shopping spree and rings up new $4 billion facilities that will generate new wastes. DOE must stop creating new waste when the legacy waste is still posing a threat, and should greatly increase the annual cleanup funding at least until it starts to make a dent in the amount owed. Until then, somebody please, cut up the credit card.

More from the Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2009 –

“At all sites where these activities took place, some environmental contamination occurred. This contamination was caused by the production, storage, and use of radioactive materials and hazardous chemicals, which resulted in contamination of soil, surface water, and groundwater. The environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production also includes thousands of contaminated buildings and large volumes of waste and special nuclear materials requiring treatment, stabilization, and disposal. Approximately one-half million cubic meters of radioactive high-level, mixed, and low-level wastes must be stabilized, safeguarded, and dispositioned, including a quantity of plutonium sufficient to fabricate thousands of nuclear weapons. “ (Pg.52)

Kansas City (Nuke Plant) Blues

Some pertinent points on the new Kansas City Plant, prompted by the Kansas
City Star article
:

•  Groundbreaking will probably be sometime after March given that final
private financing still has to be found.

•   However, groundbreaking for a major new U.S. nuclear weapons production
plant, costing $4.76 billion to build and operate over its first 20 years,
is still likely to occur just before the May 2010 NonProliferation Treaty
Review Conference. It would be nice if the U.S. had some explaining to do at
the UN over that.

•   Originally reported construction cost was $500 million. Now we’re up to
$673 million.

•   Previously projected tax abatements to be granted by the Kansas City
municipal government were $41 million. Now we’re up to $65 million ($2.6
million/year over 25 years).

•   Infrastructure improvements (roads and utilities) enabled by the tax
abatements will benefit the private developers in their other nearby
business ventures, including a planned intermodal,international
transportation hub (part of the so-called “NAFTA Superhighway”).

•   Kansas City’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA), enabled by
Missouri state law to fight urban blight, will issue bonds to private
investors. The PIEA declared a producing soy bean field blighted in order to
provide the basis for this (hardly urban blight).

• Through the PIEA, a municipal government (Kansas City, MO) will hold fee
simple to this new federal nuclear weapons production plant
(i.e., own it).
The PIEA will grant the private developers a 20-year or more
lease-to-purchase, after which the private developers will own this new
federal nuclear weapons production plant.

• Guaranteed subleases to the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA) via the General Services Administration (GSA) effectively guarantee
the profits of the private developers and their ability to pay the bonds
off. “Coincidentally,” one of the two private development partners happened
to own the land that the new Plant is to be built upon before GSA/NNSA
selected it.

•   GSA/NNSA put out a solicitation for bids to private developers a good
month or so before they issued public notice of an environmental assessment
for the new Kansas City Plant under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Nevertheless, the two agencies have always denied any predetermination.

Complete excavation of Area G now estimated at only $9.1 billion

Q: How much does it cost to cleanup a 65-acre, 50-year-old,  nuclear weapons laboratory unlined dump full of low-level radioactive waste (LLW), radioactively contaminated infectious waste, asbestos contaminated material, transuranic waste, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and much more?

A: About 8 years of the Lab’s nuclear weapons activities budget.

First, define cleanup. (Closure is the better term to use.)

The Lab recently submitted a revised (September 2009) corrective measures evaluation (CME) of Material Disposal Area (MDA) G, located within Area G of Technical Area 54, at Los Alamos National Laboratory to the NM Environment Department. The goal of the CME report was to recommend a corrective measures alternative for closure of the site and to address contamination releases in compliance with the March 1, 2005, Compliance Order on Consent (Consent Order).

This CME report screened 14 corrective measures alternatives based on their ability to meet the regulatory threshold and other qualitative screening criteria. Seven of the 14 alternatives evaluated met the screening criteria and capital costs were estimated:

1. Alternative 1B: maintenance of existing cover – $9.4 million;

2. Alternative 2B: evapotranspiration (ET) cover – $64.8 million;

3. Alternative 2C: ET cover with partial waste excavation – $46.5 million;

4. Alternative 2D: ET cover with partial waste excavation, targeted stabilization – $48 million;

5. Alternative 5B: complete waste excavation, waste treatment, off-site disposal – $9.1 billion (This is down from last year’s estimate of $20 billion.);

6. Alternative 5C: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA Subtitle C landfill – $6.1 billion; and

7. Alternative 5D: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA corrective action management unit – $6.1 billion.(All alternatives include monitoring and maintenance, and soil vapor extraction, but don’t include a 55% contingency.)

The Lab’s recommended corrective measures alternative is Alternative 2C.

The right thing to do would be Alternative 5B, complete waste excavation. The Lab could cover the $9.1 billion by redirecting the $1.2 billion it spends annually on nuclear weapons activities.

The hard-working folks over at NMED have to make the final decision, and there will be opportunities for public input.

Find the report MDA G CME R1 Sept 09 [Warning, it’s 14MB]

Operations at Plutonium Facility stood down due to fire suppression system

In the latest of a string of fire system deficiencies on Wednesday September 30th, LANL management declared the fire suppression system inoperable in PF-4 at TA-55. Facility activities were placed in stand-by mode, which were still stood down as of three weeks later on Oct. 23rd.

DNFSB explained that the stand down was based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system does not achieve the water density coverage required. Basically, the sprinklers in 13 of approximately 100 fire suppression areas at PF-4 cannot meet the current required gallons per minute estimated to effectively extinguish a fire. (Read the Oct. 2nd-23rd DNFSB reports)

One has to wonder – What is the cost to the taxpayer of PF-4 being stood down for nearly a month?

These reports come on the heels of last week’s DNFSB recommendation that the Lab must immediately do something about its risk to the public of a seismically induced fire at PF-4, which was estimated to exceed the DOE guidelines by more than 100 times. In a worst-case situation, an earthquake-induced fire could set free enough breathable plutonium that a person on the perimeter of the facility would receive a lethal dose of radiation.

Speaking of seismically induced fires, I am reminded of a March 2007 LANL report, Seismic Fragility of the LANL Fire Water Distribution System (LA-14325), which explains how numerous valves in the fire water distribution system at the Lab would have to be manually closed to insure proper pressure to facilities on fire after a seismic event.

Granted, these may be low probability events, but they have high consequences. The Lab is playing with fire by not adequately funding upgrades to its existing fire systems now, before embarking construction of any new facilities.

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