Comments to DOE Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

December 10, 2014

Jack R. Craig, Jr.

DOE EM

Re: Transition of Legacy Clean-up Work at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Mr. Craig,

Please consider these preliminary comments and requests concerning the transition of legacy clean-up work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

First, we request that alternatives to the current Department of Energy contract process be considered. The privatization of the nuclear weapons complex may be failing the U.S. taxpayer. Cost overruns plague the current system. Different variations of the same contractors still continue to line up for different variations of the same contracts. Yet, with a few exceptions, cleanup only crawls along. Many of the sites are still contaminated decades after the work was completed.  And now, WIPP is shut down.

We ask that alternatives such as looking to governmental agencies instead of private contractors be tasked with cleanup at Los Alamos. For instance, could the Army Corp. of Engineers do the job?

We also strongly request that alternatives to “No-Bid” and “Cost-Plus” contracts be considered first. Recently, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain spoke to prohibit the Pentagon from awarding cost-plus contracts, arguing such deals encourage nefariousness. (DefenseNews.com, December 5, 2014)

Second, if a conventional contract is used, we request that the following specific items be included in the proposed new EM contract at LANL. We also ask that these items be included in the ‘bridge’ contract:

  • Must be tied to LANL Consent Order and LANL RCRA permit.
  • Any “campaigns” must be legally binding, and not used as justification to miss Consent Order milestones.
  • Should be more incentive based – less fixed.
  • Should be more transparent like ARRA, including public availability of Performance Evaluations.
  • Should have dramatically lower overhead costs, for example lower security and no LDRD costs. These overhead costs should be made public just as the old Functional Support Costs were available to the public.
  • Must include public update meetings semi-annually.
  • Should favor local/regional economic development.
  • Must have public update meetings at least semi-annually.

Third, for the new bridge contract and any final contract we ask:

  • Cleanup must continue at current pace during transition.
  • There must be a new lifecycle baseline – with the range with assumptions spelled out. Comprehensive cleanup must be considered, not just cap and cover.
  • Corrective Measures Evaluations must be completed on all areas as one of the priorities.

Finally, concerning the new bridge contract, the synopsis doesn’t address the issue of how much LANS will be paid under the to-be-finalized bridge contract in relation to how much it would have been paid under the existing contract. It also doesn’t state which of the tasks mentioned are different than under the existing contract. We request that costs and tasks be fully described in the to-be-finalized bridge contract.

Thank you for your consideration in these matters and please call if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Jay Coghlan                                                            Scott Kovac

Executive Director                                                Research Director

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) believes that the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) Shipping Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory must resolve safety issues prior to resuming operations. The DNFSB staff review team identified “significant flaws” in hazard and accident analyses.

The RANT Shipping Facility is used to load transuranic (TRU) waste, typically either waste drums or standard waste boxes, into TRUPACT shipping containers. This facility supports the LANL TRU program and will be used long-term. The RANT Shipping Facility is currently in standby with no TRU waste present, pending the resumption of TRU waste shipments.

In November 2013, the contractor, LANS, submitted a new safety analysis, called a Documented Safety Analysis (DSA), to DOE oversight officials at the Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) for approval. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down due to a radiation leak in the underground. It is believed that wheat-based kitty litter was mixed with nitrate salts in a transuranic waste drum as it was processed at Los Alamos that potentially caused the reaction that breached the container. In July 2014, LAFO completed its review of the RANT DSA and noted only four actions needed.

The DNFSB staff reviewed the DSA and identified significant weaknesses in the hazard analysis (HA), accident analysis, and safety controls. The review revealed inadequate identification and implementation of safety controls to protect the public and workers.

The DNFSB report found that LANS and LAFO underestimated consequences from potential crane failure accidents, seismic events, and fires. Underestimating possible consequences like these can lead to increased radiologic releases to the environment.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Staff Issue Report September 29, 2014

Below is a Google Earth image of the RANT facility. Notice the 8 TRUPACT trailers with three round TRUPACT containers each on them.

NukeWatch Urges Increasing DOE Accountability in Wake of Fines

On December 6, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declared multiple violations at both the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NMED plans to fine WIPP $17.7 million and LANL $36.6 million due to major procedural problems related to the handling of radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.

In addition to “failure to adequately characterize waste” and other violations, LANL was cited for the processing of nitrate-bearing wastes and adding neutralizing agents to that waste stream. LANL treated this procedure as if it was outside the state hazardous waste permit, but NMED determined that these operations were not exempt. LANL treated 100s of waste drums without a permit, and one of these was apparently the cause of the February 14, 2014 radioactive release at WIPP that contaminated 21 workers.

WIPP was cited for, among other violations, not notifying NMED in a timely fashion of the February 14 radioactive release.

The $36.6 million fine at LANL is based on up to $10,000 per day per non-compliance, but still represents less than 2% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget. The contractor that runs the Lab, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, is eligible to earn $57 million in bonus award fees for the fiscal year that ended last September 30th. The fines should be taken out of the bonuses.

NMED stipulated that the penalties couldn’t be paid for out of designated funding for environmental cleanup or operational needs at LANL and WIPP.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds these efforts to hold the Department of Energy accountable in New Mexico and we urge NMED to not negotiate these relatively modest fines down, as is typically the case. These fines should be paid out of the contractor’s profits. The Lab had this waste for over 20 years and still could not get it right. We hope these NMED fines are a wake up call for safe, comprehensive cleanup of all the wastes left from the Cold War at the Los Alamos Lab.”

NMED information is available here.

Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues in the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act

Highlights of National Nuclear Security Administration Issues

In the House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act

 

Sources: House FY 2015 NDAA, pages 1516 – 1555 and budget tables beginning page 1643.

http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20141201/CPRT-113-HPRT-RU00-S1847.pdf

Compiled by Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Any comments by me are italicized.

 

The House FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act authorizes $8.2 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) nuclear weapons programs, in contrast to the Obama Administration’s request of $8.3 billion.

It meets the Administration’s $643 million request for the B61 Life Extension Program, and raises the $9.4 million request for the Long-Range Stand-Off (AKA air-launched cruise missile) nuclear warhead to $17 million.

It raises the $30 million request for dismantlements to $40 million.

It meets the $335 million request for the Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project (AKA the Uranium Processing Facility).

It raises the $196 million request for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

It cuts the $410.8 million request for the NNSA Office of the Administrator to $386.9 million.

SEC. 3111. DESIGN AND USE OF PROTOTYPES OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS FOR INTELLIGENCE PURPOSES requires the lab directors to “develop a multiyear plan to design and build prototypes of nuclear weapons to further intelligence estimates with respect to foreign nuclear weapons activities and capabilities.” This effort “emphasizes the competencies of the national security laboratories with respect to designing and building prototypes of nuclear weapons.”

This could possibly be abused by U.S. designers to design new nuclear weapons under the rubric of gathering foreign intelligence.

SEC. 3112. PLUTONIUM PIT PRODUCTION CAPACITY declares that the “production of plutonium pits and other nuclear weapons components must be driven by the requirement to hedge against technical and geopolitical risk and not solely by the needs of life extension programs.” It goes on to require the actual production of not less than 10 plutonium war reserve pits during 2024, 20 during 2025, 30 during 2026, and demonstration of the capability to produce 80 pits per year by 2027.

How convenient to delink plutonium pit production from the actual needs of Life Extension Programs, since the only LEP that required new pit production has been indefinitely delayed. This was for the so-called Interoperable Warhead, which faced exorbitant costs and lack of support by the Navy. Nevertheless, the House Armed Services Committee now mandates expensive and provocative expanded plutonium pit production for which there is no clear need. Ironically, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has been unable to conduct plutonium operations at its pit production facility since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues.

SEC. 3118. COST CONTAINMENT FOR URANIUM CAPABILITIES REPLACEMENT PROJECT limits Phase 1 of construction of the Uranium Processing Facility to $4.2 billion. That cap could be adjusted if the DOE Secretary submits a detailed justification, including “a detailed description of the actions taken to hold appropriate contractors, employees of contractors, and employees of the Federal Government accountable for the repeated failures within the project.” It also requires that uranium operations in Building 9212 cease by 2025.

Notably, the House NDAA does NOT contain a definitional change that NNSA shopped to key congressional committees that would have narrowed the Uranium Processing Facility’s mission, thereby helping to contain its costs (which was previously capped at $6.5 billion). Thus the Uranium Processing Facility could soon be headed for another budget crisis.

SEC. 3119. PRODUCTION OF NUCLEAR WARHEAD FOR LONG-RANGE STANDOFF WEAPON requires that “The Secretary of Energy shall deliver a first production unit for a nuclear warhead for the long-range standoff weapon by not later than September 30, 2025.”

This is meant to block the Administration’s proposed two year delay. Rushing into the LRSO nuclear warhead makes no sense because it puts the cart before the horse when work on the new air-launched cruise missile has yet to start.

SEC. 3120. DISPOSITION OF WEAPONS-USABLE PLUTONIUM requires another report on possible alternatives to the MOX Program for plutonium disposition, including their life cycle costs.

Nevertheless, as previously stated, the Act increases funding for construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility to $341 million.

SEC. 3132. ANALYSIS OF EXISTING FACILITIES AND SENSE OF CONGRESS WITH RESPECT TO PLUTONIUM STRATEGY requires “analysis of using or modifying existing facilities of the nuclear security enterprise… to support [NNSA’s plutonium] strategy, as part of critical decision 1 in the acquisition process for the design and construction of modular structures associated with operations of the PF–4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico.” This is to include “plans to construct two modular structures that will achieve full operating capability not later than 2027,” all for the purpose of “meet[ing] the requirements for implementation of a responsive infrastructure, including meeting plutonium pit production requirements.”

But there are no actual pit production requirements. Recall that the Act delinks plutonium pit production from the actual needs of the nuclear weapons stockpile to become a hedge against undefined and indefinite “technical and geopolitical risk.” The Act also requires major expansion of production at LANL, when significant budget, environmental and safety issues for existing plutonium pit production remain unresolved (witness the use of unauthorized waste treatment processes by the Lab that led to the contamination of 21 workers and the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, with initial estimates of $.5 billion dollars to reopen). The House Armed Services Committee’s mandate of expanded plutonium pit production is an ideological statement of nuclear weapons forever, rather than being driven by the technical needs of the stockpile. This is an unnecessary and provocative waste of taxpayer’s money that if enacted is doomed for failure.

 

NNSA Considers Stuffing More Plutonium Into New Facility

Despite the fact that no one has come up with a good reason to increase plutonium pit production for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, officials want to study the possibility of radically increasing the amount of plutonium allowed in a recently completed laboratory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs, Don Cook, has requested an analysis to increase the radioactive materials inventory in the recently completed Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) to up to 400 grams of plutonium-239, the isotope used in nuclear weapons. The RLUOB, which originally was limited to 8.4 grams of Pu 239, was built as Phase 1 of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at LANL that would have expanded plutonium pit production to 50 – 80 pits per year (pits are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons). LANL’s current capacity is 20 pits per year. Phase 2 of the CMRR project, the “Nuclear Facility,” was canceled because of lack of clear need and a bulging ten-fold increase in costs.

This RLUOB, along with some floor space in the existing Plutonium Facility (PF-4), will replace the old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building, which is slated for closure in 2019. The Laboratory was working on a plutonium strategy to move out of CMR and maintain the current plutonium capability.

But NNSA recently increased the maximum amount of radiological materials allowed in the RLOUB, and all “radiological” facilities, from 8.4 grams to 38.6 grams. Internal Lab documents floated plans that could have increased the limit again by two or three times by treating each little laboratory in the RLUOB as its own radiological facility. This could have increased the limit to 115.8 grams of Pu239.

But NNSA apparently wants to go big. The new analysis is to consider the RLUOB as a Hazard Category 3 nuclear facility, which is a huge step up from its current designation as a radiological facility.

Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said, “This turkey of a plan is stuffed with bad ideas – The RLUOB is not seismically qualified for that amount of plutonium. A new supplemental environmental impact statement will be needed. There is no need for more plutonium pits, except for new nuclear weapons, because they last for around 100 years and nuclear weapons stockpiles are decreasing. And apparently LANL can’t safely handle plutonium anyway, as major operations with plutonium have been paused since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. Finally, it was LANL’s improper handling of plutonium waste that contaminated 21 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, causing it to close with at least a half billion dollars in costs to reopen. We say no to more plutonium at Los Alamos!”

# # #

Read the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report here.

 

DOE Sec. Moniz Calls To Speed Up WIPP Reopening While LANL Digs Up More Problems

US Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recently and announced future recovery plans for WIPP and they include a target date to start some operations 18 months from now reported KRQE.

That date is extremely optimistic. Here’s a few reasons why –

  1. The exact cause of the February 14 release that shut WIPP down is still unknown. The cause must be determined before much else can happen.
  2. There are 360+ drums in Panel 6 that are suspected to have similar waste characteristics to the drum that leaked radiation. These have also now been re-characterized as “ignitable” by Los Alamos officials. Do these need to be removed and retreated? A decision is needed.
  3.  Panel 6 must be sealed off to protect mine workers from releases.
  4. There are 50+ suspect drums in Panel 7 where the original release happen.
  5. Parts of Panel 7 must be sealed off to protect workers.
  6. A new exhaust shaft is in the planning stages.
  7. The mine should be decontaminated.
  8. Funding for the recovery work will be needed.
  9. Fines will probably have to be paid.
  10. If the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit with the State is changed substantially, public comments and possible hearings will be required.
  11. Hopefully, a truly independent review will be approved.

In addition to these, Los Alamos officials have retroactively re-characterized many waste drums as “ignitable”. See previous post. Today it was revealed that Los Alamos has re-characterized some waste drums as “corrosive”.  Ignitable (EPA waste code D001) and corrosive (EPA waste code D002) wastes are prohibited from WIPP.

The NM Environment Department, and its Secretary Ryan Flynn, has the final say about the final disposition of the now illegal waste drums and many of the other issues. We trust he will take the health of present workers and future generations into account in his decision-making. DOE’s imagined schedule should not be a consideration.

We appreciate that Los Alamos Laboratory officials have stepped up and re-characterized the drums. But we don’t think DOE officials should be making statements about the timing of WIPP’s reopening (or even that WIPP will reopen at all) until all the facts are in.

To make matters even worse, the Current Argus reported that “Moniz told the town hall meeting [that the Department of] Energy is considering the facility [WIPP] to store spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants, but provided no time line.”

To even consider expanding WIPP when it is not even open shows the lack of focus on the current problems and shows the lessons have not been learned.

 

DOE Retroactively Classifies Suspect WIPP Drums As Ignitable

DOE Retroactively Classifies Suspect WIPP Drums As Ignitable

In two letters posted to the NMED website, Los Alamos contractor and DOE Field Office officials informed NMED that 86 drums currently stored at LANL and 368 drums underground in Panel 6 at WIPP are now considered to contain ignitable wastes. These drums are part of the same waste stream as the drum in Panel 7 that is suspected to have caused the Feb. 14 radiation release and the subsequent closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

The letters state that DOE applied EPA Hazardous Waste Number D001 for the characteristic of ignitability.

The WIPP Permit specifically prohibits D001 Wastes at WIPP –

2.3.3.7. Ignitable, Corrosive, and Reactive Wastes

Wastes exhibiting the characteristic of ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity (EPA Hazardous Waste Numbers of D001, D002, or D003) are not acceptable at WIPP.

DOE stated that it had “reason to believe that the nitrate salt bearing waste in the containers described above is an oxidizer and therefore the D001 code should be applied to the respective containers”, but did not explain exactly what that reason was. What did LANL or the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) discover that lead them to apply the D001 classification? The AIB report investigating the Feb. 14 release is not due until September.

Now there are 368 illegal drums buried at WIPP. DOE can’t seal up Panel 6 until the exact cause of the Feb 14 release is known, even though there is a plan to expedite closure of Panel 6.  NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated on several occasions that that we must know the exact cause before sealing up Panel 6. We agree. Otherwise we might be burying drums that should be retrieved and repackaged, as onerous of a task that that would be.

DOE stated, “Because the investigations are ongoing, the application of the D001 is considered provisional and may change to include and/or remove containers/waste streams in the future.”  But the WIPP permit has no provision for allowance for “provisional” classification wastes.

Either they are or they are not.

Missed WIPP Deadline May Put Real Cleanup at LANL Back On Track

Missed WIPP Deadline May Put Real Cleanup at LANL Back On Track

Santa Fe, NM – Today the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) denied extension requests by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to delay cleanup milestones under a legally enforceable 2005 Consent Order. These denials by NMED counter a trend since January 2012 when NMED and LANL entered into a nonbinding “Framework Agreement” to ship 3706 cubic meters of above-ground transuranic waste from the Lab to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal. LANL radioactive wastes are now the main suspect in the February 14 contamination and subsequent shutdown of the multi-billion dollar WIPP.

NMED denied 14 extensions, now available in LANL’s Electronic Public Reading Room. These denials include construction of monitoring wells, and investigation reports for cleanup of contaminated areas. All of them included language that LANL requested an extension based on the Lab’s need to divert resources to remove transuranic waste in accordance with the Framework Agreement. The denials repeatedly state, “Based on the Permittees’ [LANL’s] statement that they will not be able to meet the deadlines that they committed to in the Framework Agreement [to ship TRU wastes to WIPP], the request is hereby denied.”

NMED had previously agreed to over 100 of these extension requests in favor of the so-called 3706 Campaign. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.

The Lab will miss the June 30 deadline of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under the 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy wastes. The Consent Order is enforceable with financial penalties for missed deliverables.

The Lab has claimed that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the original intent behind the Consent Order was that fines or the threat of fines would shake federal cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in Washington, DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Executive Director, commented, “After granting more than one hundred extension requests to delay cleanup, we salute the New Mexico Environment Department for denying further requests. We encourage NMED to enforce what it already has, and make LANL comply with its legally mandated cleanup order. This in turn will drive increased federal funding for genuine cleanup at the Lab, creating hundreds of jobs while permanently protecting our precious water and environment.”

Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Program Director, commented, “We look forward to continuing enforcement of the 2005 Consent Order and the necessary removal of Cold War legacy waste buried in unlined trenches above our aquifer.”

January 2012 Framework Agreement

LANL’s Electronic Public Reading Room

Sample of denial

 

 

DOE Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release

DOE Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release

On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) DC Office of Independent Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the operating contractor for DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, of its intent to conduct an investigation.  The investigation will look into potential nuclear safety, worker safety, and health programmatic deficiencies associated with the two events in February.

WIPP has been shut down since February 5, 2014, when a salt-hauling truck caught fire, forcing evacuation of 86 workers from underground, 13 of whom were treated for smoke inhalation. Nine days later, an air monitor detected radiation underground where waste had recently been emplaced. The emergency filtration started, but radioactive particles were released to the environment. That resulted in contamination of all 13 people working above ground.

The DOE headquarters’ investigation may be a good start (hopefully), but Nuclear Watch NM, and many other groups, wants a truly independent, public investigation. This investigation should determine the cause of the WIPP radiation release, the extent of underground and surface contamination, the medical and compensation requirements for contaminated workers, and options for cleaning up underground and surface contamination.

In the meantime, TRU must be stored safely and securely at other DOE sites, regardless of how long WIPP is closed.  Unnecessary waste shipments should not occur while WIPP is closed. Additional newly-generated TRU waste from nuclear weapons production, which exacerbates existing problems, should not be produced.

After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL

After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL

The June 30 deadline of the “3706 Campaign” to remove 3706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored on the surface on Los Alamos Lab will be missed due to the radiation release and shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.

The Lab missed the low bar of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under a 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy waste. The Consent Order is enforceable with stipulated penalties of up to $3000/day for missed deliverables. But NMED has been hesitant to impose fines, because of DOE claims that the fines come out of the cleanup budget. The deadline for the last cleanup under the Consent Order is currently December 2015, which everyone agrees is impossible. But that end date could be extended, and should be extended, especially if the Lab was actually working on the legacy cleanup

NMED, to date, has granted over 95 extensions for Consent Order deliverables in favor of the 3706 Campaign. These extensions allow the Lab to not drill monitoring wells and to not perform cleanup investigations and work plans for sites across the Lab. The Lab claims that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the idea behind the Consent Order was that fines and the threat of fines would shake cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be. Urgency and comprehensiveness go out the window.

The Cold War has been over for twenty years now and we in Northern New Mexico have been patient in removing LANL’s legacy waste.

But now Northern New Mexico has neither a 3706 Campaign that is complete, nor a Consent Order that will be complete by its deadline. NMED officials have stated, upon the successful completion of the 3706 Campaign, that they would consider renegotiating the Consent Order. We are waiting to see how NMED deals with the 3706 failure and we urge NMED to make the Consent Order the priority again. The Campaign approach has now been proven not to work.

In the meantime, we also have contaminated WIPP workers.

We have 707 possibly explosive drums probably created by Los Alamos spread across New Mexico and West Texas.

We have a damaged WIPP, which is shut down for up to three years and missing its deadlines for disposing waste.

We have other impacted DOE sites across the country, which will be missing deadlines for radioactive waste disposal.

We the taxpayers are no doubt going to spend hundreds of millions on this fiasco while the contractors continue to put money in their pockets.

The New Mexico Environment Department is the regulator here. Relying on LANL’s promises and plans to make things better must end. Time to return to the 2005 Consent Order and actually use the enforceable provisions in it.

NNSA Digs Deep To Find A Reason To Give Itself Award

The award for the largest nuclear facility project completed ahead of schedule and under budget by NNSA goes to a project came in only 1% under budget after spending $40 million in contingency.

In an April 2 2014 National Nuclear Security Administration press release titled, NNSA Receives Secretary’s Award for Project Management Excellence, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) Equipment Installation (REI) Project was touted for coming in $2 million under budget.

First, the CMRR is the now-deferred project at Los Alamos, whose third phase Nuclear Facility would have enabled increased plutonium pit production. The RLOUB was the first phase of the CMRR project. The second phase REI is only the “equipment” for the RLOUB.

The press release tells us –

“The REI installed glovebox and other enclosure systems, analytical and test instrumentation equipment, and telecommunications and safeguards/security systems within the RLUOB.”

Also included, but not mentioned in the press release, were a fuel oil storage tank, furniture, and the parking lot.

It looks like NNSA gave the award in part because it could have been worse. With one year left in the 3-year the contract, it was estimated that the project was $8 million over budget. So NNSA put a new team in charge and straightened out their mess-ups and turned it around to a $2 million savings.

The press release tells us –

“The CMRR/RLUOB REI Project is the largest nuclear facility capital asset project completed ahead of schedule and under budget by NNSA.”

The press release also neglects to give the total budget. Our documents show that REI had a total budget $199 million. That makes the $2 million that the REI came in under budget equal to 1% of the total budget.

But our documents also show that there was $41.6 million (26%) contingency included in the $199 total budget. After spending untold millions in design and then estimating the cost of the project, NNSA adds in a large contingency to every project so that it does not go over budget and have to go back to Congress for more money.

Is the REI, which spent $40 million in contingency, really $2 million under budget?

I think not. NNSA must give the public all the facts and figures when it gives glowing appraisals of itself.

 

Here’s what we have on the REI –

 

WIPP Continues to Show Signs, Town Hall Webcast Tonight, LANL TRU to WCS, More Information

WIPP Continues to Show Signs, Town Hall Webcast tonight, LANL TRU to WCS, More Information

WIPP Underground Continues to Show Signs of Radiological Activity

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials stated that there was another radiological release on March 11.  This was outside of the WIPP site exhaust shaft filter. An air sample from the outside of the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium on a sample collected the evening of March 11. WIPP stated that, “This is expected given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event. Engineers believe the contamination was from previous deposits on the inner surface of the exhaust ductwork.” The engineers did not state why they expected this and did not mention the LARGE amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system filters. The engineers also did not state why they believed this and not that more contamination was being produced in the underground.

Air sampling results before and after the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters at WIPP are available here. Station A samples air before the filters and Station B samples air after passing through the filters. These samples were analyzed following the detection of airborne radioactivity on February 14, 2014. They are not environmental samples, and are not representative of the public or worker breathing zone air samples.

The 3/11/14 4:19PM increase after the filters is shown here. There were other small releases on 03/02/2014 08:50 AM (38 dpm) and 03/05/2014 08:10 AM (60 dpm, although WIPP claims that the filter was “cross contaminated”)

There was a larger event, before the filters, that occurred 03/13/2014 08:30 AM (368 dpm) that has not been mentioned. All this shows that the underground could still be brewing radiological activity. Perhaps this will be explained better tonight at the Town hall.

 

Weekly Town Hall Meetings in Carlsbad?

Thursdays at 5:30 – Carlsbad City Council Chambers, City Hall, 101 N. Halagueno St.

Co-hosted by City of Carlsbad and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office

Discuss recovery efforts following WIPP’s fire and radiological events in February.

Meetings available live online

 

The Show Goes On

The Department of Energy (DOE), is proposing to ship transuranic waste currently located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists (WCS), located in western Andrews County, Texas. LANL has another ~546 cubic meters remaining out of the original 3706 cubic meters that was agreed to be moved to WIPP by June 2014.

Let’s be clear, there is no technical reason to store the waste temporarily at WSC.  DOE and LANL just want to show that they can meet a deadline. The extra cost of this operation has not been released. And don’t get me wrong, no one wants the waste – all the waste  – removed from LANL more than me.  Let’s hope that DOE and LANL show the same amount of interest and resources when it comes to removing the rest of the waste at Los Alamos, such as the hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried at Area G.

 

Official Websites

New Mexico Environment Department WIPP website

DOE/WIPP website

 

WIPP Informational Meeting in Santa Fe

A WIPP informational meeting will take place in Santa Fe on Monday, March 31st from 6 to 7:30 pm at the Santa Fe Main Library, located at 145 Washington, in downtown Santa Fe.  Please note the new location.  Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and Sasha Pyle, longtime activist, will give presentations. Opportunities for public involvement will be discussed.

DOE releases predicted spread of WIPP contamination

We now have a look at DOE’s predicted contamination spread, available at the  Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) update page.

This model is based on three air samplers, and no samplers to the Northeast. There are still many questions, including:

What caused this release in the first place?

How contaminated is the underground?

Are soil samples being collected? From where?

 

Modeling has been done to estimate onsite worker and offsite public dose that may have resulted from the February 14, 2014, event. The results of the modeling indicate that all potential doses were well below the applicable regulatory limits (see results below). The modeling results are consistent with actual worker bioassay results. For modeling data see: (http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/Modeling Results.pdf)

Estimated Dose Maximum estimated worker dose 10 mrem Maximum estimated public dose 0.1 < 1 mrem

Natural Background 310 mrem

Applicable Regulatory Limit

5000 mrem per year

DOE all?paths limit (adults) 100 mrem per year

DOE all?paths limit for children/pregnant women 25 mrem per year

EPA Air (NESHAPs) Standard for inhalation is 10 mrem per year

 

 

 

 

Mine Games – WIPP Update March 10, 2014

Mine Games

In a March 9th press release, the Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the management and operations contractor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), stated their plans to reenter the ailing salt mine/nuclear waste repository after a radiological release shut down operations over three weeks ago.

The press release tells us that, on March 7 and 8, radiological and air quality instruments were lowered down the Salt Handling and the Air Intake Shafts. The preliminary findings indicated that no “detectable radioactive contamination” in the air or on the equipment. The press release claims that these results were expected because the shafts that were sampled were not in the air flow path coming from the area where the radiation release originated.

But, there are 4 shafts to underground – the Salt Handling, the Air Intake, the Waste Handling, and the Exhaust Shafts. After the detection on a radiologic release, filters move into the Exhaust Shaft and air is drawn to the outside by fans blowing to the outside here. The other three shafts, mainly the Air Intake Shaft because it has no elevator in it, provide intake for the air flow path to the Exhaust Shaft. Strangely missing from the press release is any mention of the Waste Handling Shaft, which contains an elevator to take the waste down into the mine and should also have been out of the air flow path. DOE and NWP must explain why the Waste Handling Shaft was not sampled and, if it was, what are the results. The Waste Handling Shaft provides the normal entry to the underground, so why use the Salt Shaft? Also, the press release did not mention that any “soil” samples were taken from the walls of any of the shafts. Is the Waste Handling Shaft contaminated or presumed contaminated?

As far as the air flow path goes, it’s an elaborate game to get the air to flow where it is needed in the underground of WIPP. Getting the desired path requires blocking off numerous openings in the underground. Bob Martin from KRQE gave a hint of what is involved in his recent report. We have not been given the diagram for the air flow path at the time of the release or even if the path was in place. We don’t have the location of all the monitors in the underground and if they were working. What was the presumed path of the contaminated air to the Exhaust Shaft? Why are so many details left out out of the information released to the public?

Unfortunately, the press release also mentioned that four more WIPP workers had been contaminated. But it was not stated where or when these employees received the dose. Was it Friday night or Saturday? Why was this important information not in the press release?

We also have some new sample findings released. Some of the interesting information here is that the WIPP Laboratory Analyses are so much lower than the Screening Analyses. I will get back to you on that. But don’t forget that it is unlikely that the main release actually hit any of the air monitors dead-on. Also, notice the lack of samplers to the northeast.

We will have to wait for soil samples to come in before we can begin to estimate the main path of the release.

WIPP is not a secret facility. (They even let me down there last year.) Press releases that raise more questions than they answer must stop now.

WIPP Video Story and Congressional Delegation Statements from KRQE

KRQE TV 13 aired a news story last night that included statements from the five members of the NM Congressional Delegation:

On the recent radiation leak: “From my perspective on the (U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources) committee, the first priority is making sure that the personnel who actually work at WIPP are safe and that the community and environment around WIPP is safe.”

On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “WIPP was never designed as a high level facility, and I don’t think we should retrofit it to be a high level facility. There has been talk of moving other transuranic waste there that was generated in different ways than the transuranic waste that’s coming from Los Alamos, for example. That’s something we can have the conversation about, but it should never be a high level facility.”

On any future change in WIPP’s mission: “We have a very long standing and robust conversation in my office with the community in Carlsbad all the time. The input from the community is always critical.” “There is nothing more important than making sure that that community feels like we are doing everything possible to make sure that WIPP is a success, and that the people who work there in the surrounding community and their well-being is our first priority.”

~ U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico

 

“It’s too early to say whether the leak factors into my thoughts about the future of WIPP because we don’t know what happened. I’m taking the leak very seriously, and our focus right now is on the immediate safety of the community and WIPP personnel and the recovery work. It would be premature to draw any conclusions. This is a very technical issue, and the science is extremely important. My position on expansion now is the same as it has always been. When it comes to proposals that would significantly change WIPP’s mission, I support the provision in the current law that bans high-level waste at WIPP. WIPP was not fully studied for high-level waste, and it does not meet permit requirements for high-level waste. Additionally, New Mexico’s people and state government are the ones who have the power to decide what waste our state will accept and under what terms. Any attempt to alter WIPP’s mission would take many years of study, permitting, and require the state of New Mexico’s full support.”

~ U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico

 

On the radiation leak: “Congressman Pearce has introduced legislation to protect New Mexico jobs at WIPP, which has safely disposed of TRU waste for over a decade. Right now, Congressman Pearce is focused on monitoring the present situation closely, ensuring DOE and WIPP continue to make public safety the top priority. To date, all information shared with our office indicates there is no risk or danger to the community. At the appropriate time, the Congressman fully expects and will insist that the Department of Energy conduct a thorough investigation and answer all the public’s questions.”

On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “Now is not the time to speculate about proposals that are not even on the table. Taking high level waste at WIPP is not on the table. Congressman Pearce’s number one priority right now is public safety, and there are many questions that need to be answered before any changes in WIPP’s mission are discussed.”

~ Eric Layer, Spokesman for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM 2nd District

 

“Right now, the number one priority is the health and safety of the WIPP employees who were affected by the leak as well as the residents of the surrounding community. As the response effort continues, there must be nothing short of full transparency and accountability to ensure the public that they are safe. This incident further proves that any expansion of WIPP’s mission warrants close scrutiny that’s rooted in science and that includes extensive outreach to and input from all stakeholders and local communities.”

~ U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-NM 1st District

 

“I am very concerned about the recent detection of radiation near WIPP and the health and safety of those exposed to radiation. It will be important that answers are provided detailing the causes of the elevated levels and how this will be prevented in the future. The safety and security of the community must be the top priority.

As far as the larger discussion about changes at WIPP, one aspect that cannot be forgotten or overlooked – especially given the recent incident – is the reality of exposure and what will happen when workers or members of the community are exposed to harmful levels of radiation. Sadly in New Mexico, we are all too familiar with the story of those who worked in uranium mines and other government facilities and suffered exposure to radiation. They contributed to our national security, yet paid a steep cost as many individuals became sick and some paid with their life. I am still fighting in Congress to see that many of these workers are compensated for the health problems they developed as a result of their work. While we hope we never have to face a similar situation in the future, it is important we have these discussions now rather than when it’s too late, especially given the recent reports that 13 workers tested positive for radiation exposure.”

~ U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM 3rd District

Scroll to top