Questions for the DOE FY 2016 Nuclear Weapons and Cleanup Budget Request

The Administration releases its  Congressional Budget Request this Monday, February 2, 2015.

Questions for the U.S. Department of Energy FY 2016 Nuclear Weapons and Cleanup Budget Request

From

Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

A national network of organizations working to address issues of nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup

The US nuclear weapons budget continues to spiral out of control. Look for double-digit increases in Department of Energy (DOE) weapons activities. Core nonproliferation programs will be cut because of funding for mixed-oxide fuel. Cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal will fall further behind. The DOE budget for FY 2016 will illuminate the Obama Administration’s misplaced nuclear priorities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 28-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Advisory.

— Does the budget request boost funding for “modernization” programs that indefinitely maintain nuclear warheads? Such funding is contrary to the Obama Administration’s previously declared goal of a future world free of nuclear weapons.

— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to reduce funding (currently $335 million) on the multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?

— Does the budget increase funds for nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity? Will cooperative programs with Russia be maintained?

— Is there increased funding for expanded production of plutonium bomb cores? Why is expanded production needed when expert studies find that existing plutonium pits are durable?

— Is more than $300 million provided for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore Lab that has repeatedly failed to achieve “ignition”? What is the funding level for uncontained plutonium shots although they will taint the NIF target chamber and optics with alpha radiation?

— Does the budget seek an increase for the B61 Life Extension Program (currently $643 million)?

— As DOE affirms that the $30-billion plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site is financially unsustainable, is the MOX plant construction again proposed for “cold standby” (~$200 million) or a level to barely allow it to survive (~300+ million)? Does the budget include the current validated base-line cost of MOX plant, a validated construction and operation schedule and names of nuclear utilities willing to use experimental MOX fuel?

— Does the budget include $0 for Yucca Mountain? No funding is consistent with past requests that terminate this technically flawed site that is strongly opposed by Nevada state officials and the public.

— Does the budget provide additional Environmental Management (EM) funding (currently $5 billion) to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.

– How will DOE and its contractors pay fines for missing milestones? In the past three months, the states of New Mexico, Idaho, and Washington have issued fines of tens of millions of dollars, and fines loom in South Carolina. In which other states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones?

— What is the high range for total life-cycle cleanup costs (LCC) for EM sites? Because of funding shortfalls, High Range LCC costs have increased from $308.5 billion in the FY 2013 Budget Request, to $330.9 billion in the FY 2014 Request, and were $328.4 billion in the FY 2015 Request.

— How much does the budget include for the shut down of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)? How much is for recovery and how much for waste emplacement (previously $220 million a year) even though no waste is being emplaced? How much additional funding is requested for the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge because of the shutdown?

— Does the budget for Hanford (more than $2 billion) protect workers from toxic chemical exposures, provide an Operational Readiness Review of the nuclear safety of the Waste Treatment Plant, and fund construction of new double-shell tanks to replace the leaking ones?

— Does the budget increase funding (currently $28.5 million) for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects because of the many cost overruns, schedule delays, safety culture issues and technical problems?

— Is the funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) enough to make them viable? As private financing is lacking, will DOE reaffirm that it will not finance SMR construction?

 

For further information, contact:

Jay Coghlan jay(at)nukewatch.org

 

Download the pdf and more contact info here.

 

More WIPP Fallout: NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 29, 2014
Contact:  Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay@nukewatch.org

More WIPP Fallout:
NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90%
Watchdogs Say Management Contract Should Be Put Out for Bid

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Los Alamos Lab Director Charles McMillan notified LANL employees that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had slashed FY 2014 management award fees to $6.25 million. Seventeen million dollars were available in fixed fees, and around $40 million in incentive fees, resulting in a 90% cut to potential awards. In addition, NNSA declined to grant a previously pro forma one-year contract extension, and most remarkably rescinded a contract extension from an earlier year (see more below). As justification, the agency invoked a ““First Degree” performance failure… [that] created damage to DOE property or costs for cleaning, decontaminating, renovating, replacing or rehabilitating property that in aggregate exceed $2.5 million.”

This is more fallout from WIPP. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) used unapproved radioactive waste treatment procedures that resulted in a ruptured drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing that multi-billion dollar facility. It will cost an estimated half-billion dollars to reopen WIPP, which will likely double. Additionally, the New Mexico Environment Department has proposed $54 million in fines against LANL and WIPP, and Congress has cut $40 million from cleanup programs at the Lab, while adding $100 million to help reopen WIPP.

LANL is managed by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. LANL Director Charles McMillan is compensated $1.5 million annually, while also acting as president of the for-profit limited liability corporation, a possible conflict of interest.

Because of grossly substandard performance, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico had jointly asked the Department of Energy Secretary to cut LANS’ FY 2014 incentive fee at least in half. NNSA’s final decision far exceeds our request. Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “We strongly praise NNSA for gutting LANS’ award fees. This sends an unmistakable message to contractors that they will be held accountable, which has been sorely missing to date. However, in light of LANS’ miserable performance, NNSA should take the next big step and put the management contract out to bid. NNSA and Congress should also consider whether for-profit management of the nuclear weapons complex is really in the country’s best interests, when the track record demonstrates that it’s not.”

In addition to the WIPP fiasco, another monumental failure occurred in July 2012 when three elderly protestors broke into a highly secure area, previously thought impregnable, at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. The for-profit contractor had self-appraised its security program management as “excellent” and physical security as “good” in the preceding official “Performance Evaluation Report,” which the NNSA approved and paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Concerning LANS’ own substandard performance, LANL has been incapable of conducting major operations at its main plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of serious nuclear criticality safety concerns. This belies the fact that the Lab is the country’s only designated, so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence.” Bechtel has had a particularly troubled performance history with the Department of Energy. Under Bechtel management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers.

Similarly, under Bechtel’s partnership management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Lab Director McMillan now pushes for a multi-billion dollar “modular” substitute for the CMRR Nuclear Facility, whose mission would be expanded production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, existing nuclear weapons don’t need expanded pit production, implying that it would be for unspecified future nuclear weapons. In any event, LANL has questionable competency to perform any plutonium pit production at all.

On a final related matter, to its credit NNSA posted the LANS FY 2014 Fee Determination Letter and Notice of Reduction. However, the agency did not post the full Performance Evaluation Report upon which they are based. Jay Coghlan commented, “NNSA’s decision to slash LANS’ fees is very welcomed, but far greater transparency is still needed. Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued in the past to make full Performance Evaluation Reports publicly available. We will sue again if our current Freedom of Information Act request for the full FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report is not soon satisfied.”

LANS received a 68% contractor performance rating for FY 2012, but was given a waiver by the NNSA fee determination officer (who soon thereafter became the NNSA Administrator). That waiver gave LANS additional taxpayer-paid fees and granted it another contract extension, when the required minimum threshold was 80%. Nuclear Watch New Mexico discovered this after litigation that obtained the full FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Report. Congress subsequently required NNSA to report any future waivers to the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, effectively ending that practice. This does, however, demonstrate the importance of public access to NNSA’s full Performance Evaluation Reports, so that taxpayers can know that nuclear weapons contractors are being held accountable.

# # #

References:

1.   NNSA, FY 2014 Performance Evaluation Report, Fee Determination Letter, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/FY14%20LANS%20FDO%20Letter.pdf

2.   NNSA, Contracting Officer’s Notice of Reduction of LANS FY 2014 Fixed Fee and Forfeiture of Previously Earned Award Term, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/Contracting%20Officer%20Notice%20of%20Reduction%20of%20LANS%20FY14%20Fixed%20Fee%20and%20Incentive%20Fee.pdf

3.   December 3, 2014 joint POGO and Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor. http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/POGO-NukeWatch-Moniz-Sandia-performance-12-19-14.pdf

4.   LANL Director Charles McMillan December 29, 2014 announcement to Lab employees:

To/MS:LANL-ALL
From/MS: Charles F. McMillan, DIR, A100
Phone/Fax:7-5101/7-2997
Symbol:DIR-14-246
Date: December 29, 2014

SUBJECT:  FY2014 NNSA PERFORMANCE REVIEW

NNSA has presented the Laboratory with our annual performance
evaluation report (PER) for FY2014. As expected the overall
results are not, with several notable exceptions, positive.

The fee for Fiscal Year 2014 was reduced to $6.25 million.  Given
the events surrounding our breached drum at WIPP and the severity
of the issue, the Laboratory received a rating of
“unsatisfactory” in operations and infrastructure and a score of
zero in that area which accounted for the significant reduction
in fee.

Although the WIPP incident weighed very heavily on our overall
evaluation from NNSA we performed well in the areas of our core
nuclear weapons work, global security, and science. This good
performance prompted written praise from NNSA Field Office
Manager Kim Davis Lebak as well as in the PER. Lebak said, “The
majority of the work performed by the Laboratory met or exceeded
NNSA expectations.”

I want to emphasize that our true value as a Laboratory should be
measured by the contributions we make to national security. This
is something we can all be very proud of. According to the PER
our nuclear weapons mission and global security mission each
“exceeded expectations.”  The PER cited many weapons program
highlights including: assisting Pantex to surpass the recovery
schedule for W76-1 production, execution of the Leda experiment
at Nevada, advances in the plutonium strategy, and excellent
progress in support of B61-12.  In global security, according to
the PER, “The Laboratory’s efforts were high impact and largely
successful, especially in the areas of Nuclear Safeguards and
Security, the Nuclear Counterterrorism Program, the Nuclear Non-
Compliance Verification Program and Non-Proliferation Research
and Development.”

Despite the challenges of fiscal uncertainty during the past
year, the Laboratory has made significant strides in many areas.
Our mission deliverables included multiple activities and studies
that increased our understanding of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

An update to the W78 life expectancy study was delivered, along
with analyses related to the B61, W76, W78, and W88 systems.  In
the broader national security mission the Laboratory was
instrumental in supporting the removal of low-enriched uranium
from Russia, hosting the IAEA non-destructive inspector training
course, and developing USAF satellite-based treaty verification
instruments.

In addition, the PER calls out our science, technology and
engineering missions for advancing the state of research and
utilization of the exceptional scientific resources of the
Laboratory including Laboratory Directed Research and Development
(LDRD).   According to the PER, “The Laboratory has reinforced
its stature as one of the preeminent scientific institutions of
the nation.” Indeed, we pushed the boundaries of science,
technology and engineering with major feats, such as: being
chosen to develop SuperCam for the Mars 2020 mission, supplying
unique RAPTOR telescope data on the birth of a black hole,
leading the development of a “desktop” human surrogate device,
and collaboration on the characterization of the damage to the
Fukushima nuclear plant.

Operationally, despite setbacks and shortcomings, we saw progress
and momentum in key areas:
*             Safety and environmental performance are at historically
positive levels.  Injuries and days away from work due to
safety issues are lower than ever before.  The Laboratory
was named a “Star Site” of the Voluntary Protection Plan
program, the largest site in the DOE complex to earn the
star level;
*             Site-wide energy usage was reduced and water consumption
was reduced by 18 percent over last fiscal year;
*             An upgrade project for plutonium facility security was
completed and seismic and fire protection upgrades at TA-55
were completed; and
*             Significant progress was made on construction projects,
including TA-55 revitalization, the Transuranic Waste
Facility, and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center.

To position the Laboratory to deliver on our future national
security missions we made significant progress with NNSA on
plutonium strategy including the “modular” approach to
infrastructure that will reduce risk associated with the
construction of targeted facilities while meeting mission needs,
safety and security, and regulatory requirements.  We also
awarded a contract to Cray Inc. to build the next-generation
supercomputer, Trinity.  Trinity will play a key role in
assessing future issues, both known and unknown, in the U.S.
nuclear deterrent.

Although this was a very tough year for the Laboratory I am
optimistic that next year will be better. I am determined to do
all that I can to make it so. My personal priorities will be to
continue to make progress on getting PF-4 fully restarted,
continuing collaboration with DOE on an effective and efficient
transition of the Environmental Management program scope, and
enhancing our management and leadership capabilities by filling
key vacancies and correcting operational deficiencies.

I would like to personally thank each of you for the hard work
and wish you and your family members a safe and happy holiday
season. Enjoy your well-deserved break and come back in the New
Year rededicated to serving the national security needs of this
country.

NNSA Governance Advisory Panel Condones Diminishing Federal Oversight Of Failing Contractors

Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise released its long awaited report, entitled “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise.” According to enabling language in the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act, “The purpose of the advisory panel is to examine options and make recommendations for revising the governance structure, mission, and management of the nuclear security enterprise.” This means the nuclear weapons complex owned by the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and run by its contractors. In an attempt to give increased prominence to nuclear weapons programs, the Panel goes so far as to recommend that the Department of Energy be renamed the Department of Energy and Nuclear Security.

The Panel itself is full of conflicts-of-interest. It is co-chaired by Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is the sole manager of the Sandia Labs and runs the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons production plants in partnership with the Bechtel Corp. The other co-chair, Admiral Robert Mies, sits on the Board of Governors of both for-profit contractors that run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs, as do former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and Michael Anastasio, former director of both labs. Yet another panel member, Franklin C. Miller, sits on the Sandia Corporation Board of Directors.

But the most questionable panel member is former Congresswoman Heather Wilson (ex.-R-NM). While still in office she signed a contract for “consulting” services with the Sandia National Laboratories that had no written work requirements. The day after she stepped down from office she started being paid $10,000 a month, and went on to secure a similar contract from the Los Alamos Lab for the same amount of money. The DOE Inspector General has recently found that the Sandia contractor (wholly owned by Lockheed Martin) had engaged in highly improper, if not illegal, lobbying of Congress for contract extensions, in which Heather Wilson was “deeply, deeply involved.” Both Sandia and LANL were forced to return to the government the $450,000 they had paid to Wilson, but she has not returned any money.

The Panel’s report laments the dysfunctional relationship between NNSA and its contractors, and deplores the loss of mutual trust. But while profits are rising, contractors are being held to fewer and fewer performance benchmarks, which the Panel does little if anything to fix. Performance benchmarks were previously codified in annual Performance Evaluation Plans (PEPs), but have been subsequently stripped. As a case in point, the FY 2012 Performance Evaluation Plan for the Los Alamos Lab contractor was 89 pages long, full of concrete performance benchmarks. The restructured FY 2013 Plan was nine pages long, with vague performance benchmarks.

This diminishing federal oversight flies in the face of a long history of project delays and immense cost increases for which contractors are responsible, but not held accountable. For example, the former contractor for the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant committed a half-billion dollar design mistake for the Uranium Processing Facility, but has not been publicly disciplined. Y-12’s new contractor just awarded Bechtel a no-bid UPF construction contract, which in effect awards itself since the contractor is principally composed of Lockheed Martin and Bechtel. This is despite the fact that under Bechtel management the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos exploded in costs from ~$600 million to ~$.6.5 billion, and the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford from ~$3.5 billion to ~$13.5 billion.

Contractors have also committed very serious operational mistakes. The LANL contractor used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, causing estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase) and $54 million in New Mexico state fines.

As another example, the former Y-12 contractor self-appraised its security management program as “excellent” and its physical security as “good,” which the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) approved while awarding management fees. Both were shaken to their cores when an 82-year old nun and two elderly colleagues cut through three security fences to protest nuclear weapons in a very sensitive area previously thought impregnable.

Despite all this, the Panel makes no specific recommendations to put performance benchmarks back into management contracts. Instead, it proposes that the number of budget line items be reduced, which could further erode transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight, and increase the ability of NNSA and its contractors to move money around.

Perhaps most alarmingly, the Panel recommends that congressional oversight be strengthened by having the DOE Secretary report to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Armed Services Committees, and to the House Energy and Commerce and Armed Services Committees. This would likely have the opposite effect, as it seems to preclude the traditional jurisdiction of the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittees, which have provided key oversight in the past, and have often cut certain nuclear weapons programs. Indeed, later in the report, the Panel suggests (short of a formal recommendation) that funding authority for NNSA nuclear weapons programs be invested in the Defense Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Again, this appears to exclude Energy and Water Appropriations, which could have profound implications by weakening congressional fiscal constraints on the nuclear weapons complex.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Panel’s self-interested premise that the Nuclear Security Enterprise needs a new foundation is wrong. First, call it what it is, not some kind of innocuous sounding “enterprise,” but rather a massive research and production complex that is pushing an unaffordable trillion dollar modernization program for nuclear warheads, missiles, subs and bombers. This will divert taxpayers’ dollars from meeting the real national security threats of nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change. The Panel failed by not arguing for prudent maintenance of the stockpile, instead supporting a perpetual work program of risky life extension programs for existing nuclear weapons that will enrich contractors.”

# # #


“A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise” by the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise is available at
http://cdn.knoxblogs.com/atomiccity/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2014/12/Governance.pdf?_ga=1.136311025.1198700939.1418359009

The DOE Inspector General “Special Inquiry: Alleged Attempts by Sandia National Laboratories to Influence Congress and Federal Officials on a Contract Extension” is available at
http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/11/f19/IG-0927.pdf

The DOE’s Inspector General’s quote of Heather Wilson’s deep involvement in improper lobbying on behalf of the Sandia Labs is from
http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/mines-president-named-in-doe-inspector-general-s-probe/article_b984ab84-d593-5578-8007-e70e7c9e986f.html

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.

Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab

 

 

Watchdogs Urge Reduced Contractor Fees at the Los Alamos Lab

Washington, DC and Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Project On Government Oversight and Nuclear Watch New Mexico sent the Secretary of the Department of Energy a letter urging that the contractor award fee for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) be slashed. The total possible fee that can be earned for FY 2014, which ended September 30, is $17.1 million in fixed fee and up to $40 million in incentive fee.  The watchdog organizations argue that the incentive fee award should be cut at least in half because of grossly substandard contractor performance.

The Los Alamos Lab is run by Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), whose two main partners are the University of California (UC) and the privately held Bechtel Corporation. UC ran the Lab as a nonprofit until June 2006, and received approximately $8 million in annual compensation. In contrast, the for-profit LANS was awarded $51.9 million in FY 2013, or more than six times the old nonprofit fee, for no apparent improvement in contract management. As recently reported by The Albuquerque Journal, LANL Director Charlie McMillan makes $1.5 million annually while also acting as president of LANS, which is a possible conflict of interest.

LANS’ contract performance in FY 2014 was demonstrably worse than other years. The best, well-publicized evidence is that the Lab used unapproved waste handling methods to prepare plutonium-contaminated radioactive wastes for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A waste drum subsequently ruptured, contaminating 21 workers and closing WIPP, with estimated reopening costs of a half-billion dollars (which will no doubt increase). Moreover, the New Mexico Environment Department now threatens to levy substantial fines against LANL because of its missed deadline to send transuranic wastes to WIPP.

Less well known, the Lab is the nation’s only so-called “Plutonium Center of Excellence,” but has been unable to conduct major operations at its plutonium facility since the end of June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety issues. The two watchdog organizations do not support plutonium operations at LANL, much of which is geared towards the unnecessary production of plutonium pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. However, at the same time, contractors should not be paid for work they don’t do.

Peter Stockton, POGO’s senior investigator, commented, “It’s time for some tough love! LANS screws up the WIPP facility, costing the government at least $500 million, and had to stop operations at its plutonium facility for over a year because of nuclear safety concerns. In the face of these debacles, DOE should be seeking restitution, not providing a performance bonus.”

Bechtel has had a particularly troubling contracting history with DOE. Under its management estimated costs for the Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear reservation soared from $3.5 billion to $13 billion, with numerous whistleblower complaints. Similarly, under LANS’ management of the Los Alamos Lab, estimated costs for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project mushroomed from around $600 million to $6.5 billion, leading to cancellation of the proposed “Nuclear Facility.” Now, in effect, Bechtel has awarded itself the construction contract to build the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 production plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Under a previous contractor estimated costs for the UPF exploded from around $600 million to as high as $19 billion. To help fix that, the UPF’s mission has been recently narrowed to nuclear weapons components production only (eliminating dismantlements) in order to hold to a budget cap of $6.5 billion. That means the American taxpayer is paying more for less, and arguably for the wrong priorities. Lockheed Martin and Bechtel run the new Y-12 management contract.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “The Department of Energy’s cozy relationships with its contractors must end, given their repeated failures and massive cost overruns. Substandard performance by the Los Alamos Lab contractor is costing the taxpayer dearly, and therefore DOE should slash its incentive performance fee award at least in half. From there, DOE should consider booting Los Alamos National Security, LLC for another contractor entirely.”

# # #

 

The POGO/Nuclear Watch NM letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz urging reduced award fees for the Los Alamos Lab contractor is available at

http://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/POGO-NukeWatch-Moniz-LANS-performance-12-3-14.pdf


 

 

 

 

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.

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.

WIPP Update March 14 – Truck Fire Report Is Released

WIPP Underground Fire Investigation Summary Report of Accident on February 5, 2014
The salt haul truck that caught fire was approximately 29 years old.
The investigation of the truck fire did not reveal exactly what started the blaze but did find:
•Maintenance program was ineffective
•Fire protection program was less than adequate
•Emergency management/preparedness and response program were ineffective

Truck Fire Accident Report Summary

Underground Salt Haul Truck Fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant February 5, 2014 Accident Investigation Report

3/13/14 Town Hall Meeting Webcast from Carsbad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WIPP Town Hall Webcast Tonight, Thursday March 13 2014

 

Weekly Town Hall Meeting Scheduled for Thursday March 13 2014

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and DOE will co?host weekly town hall meetings to update the community on recovery activities at WIPP. The meetings will be held every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno Street. If you can’t attend, you can view the meeting on line at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/wipptownhall.

Here is a video of the March 6 DOE WIPP Town Hall.

 

 

 

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.

Great Article form La Jicarita – What’s Wrong with WIPP

 

What’s Wrong with WIPP by lajicarita

By DON HANCOCK, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC)

The world’s first geologic repository for military nuclear waste is making international news because of the radiation leak that was detected late at night on Valentine’s Day. An unknown amount of radioactive and toxic chemical waste was released to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). On February 26, the 13 workers at the site when the leak was detected were notified that they tested positive for internal radiation contamination.

Since the Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the operating contractor, have repeatedly stated that WIPP would “start clean, stay clean” and not release any radioactivity for at least 10,000 years, the leak was never supposed to happen. The health danger that persists for thousands of generations is the reason to put the wastes underground so they are not released to the environment. Thus, an obvious question: What’s wrong with WIPP?

Also, what effect does the leak have on DOE plans to expand WIPP and what is the opposition to such proposals?

*Some of the unknowns about the February 2014 radiation leak*

As of March 4, there is much more that is unknown than known:

* What caused the leak?

* How much leaked into the underground salt mine?

* How much leaked into the environment?

* Where are those radioactive and toxic wastes now?

* To what amount of radiation were the workers exposed?

* What are the health effects for those workers?

* What decontamination is necessary in the underground mine?

* What decontamination is necessary on the WIPP site and surrounding area?

* If WIPP reopens, what changes in the operation, monitoring, and safety culture will be implemented?

[Much, much more]

 

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

QUESTIONS FOR DOE FY 2015 BUDGET

ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY

A national network of organizations working to address issues of 

nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup

Ashish Sinha: (301) 910-9405 asinha@ananuclear.org

Bob Schaeffer: (239) 395-6773 bobschaeffer@earthlink.net

 

for use with March 4, 2014 Obama Administration Budget Request

 QUESTIONS FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE)

 FY 2015 NUCLEAR WEAPONS, REACTOR AND CLEANUP BUDGET

 

The U.S. nuclear budget is out of control. Huge cost overruns for unnecessary production facilities are common.  At the same time, cleanup of radioactive and toxic pollution from weapons research, testing, production and waste disposal is falling behind. The Department of Energy (DOE) budget for FY 2015 will reveal the Obama Administration’s nuclear priorities.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a 25-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear sites, will be looking at the following issues. For details, contact the ANA leaders listed at the end of this Media Advisory.

— Does the budget reflect the Administration’s commitment to curtail unnecessary spending on the $19 billion Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge by downsizing it to the capacity needed to support stockpile surveillance, maintenance and limited life extension?

— Does the budget address the looming deficit in nuclear weapons dismantlement capacity so the United States can meet its international arms reduction commitments?

 

— Will the Obama Administration articulate its alternative plutonium strategy to the $6 billion “CMRR Nuclear Facility,” which was effectively cancelled in 2012? Is any expanded production needed when expert studies have found that existing plutonium pits are durable?

— Will NNSA reduce funding or impose meaningful milestones at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which performed less than half of its planned Stockpile Stewardship experiments in FY2013 and still has not achieved ignition.

— Is the budget a de facto cancellation of plans to pursue “interoperable warhead designs” by imposing a delay of five years or more on the program? How much money will taxpayers save?

 

— Does the FY 2015 budget seek more than the $537 million requested for the B61 Life Extension Program last year? Will the “First Production Unit” from this $10 billion program continue to slip to 2020 or later delaying needed routine replacement of critical components?

— How much of the additional $26 billion in Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel’s “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” will go to DOE nuclear weapons programs? 

— Will the Administration support increased funding for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to provide independent oversight of DOE projects given the many cost over-runs, schedule delays, safety issues and technical problems?

 

— What is the projected life-cycle cost of the plutonium fuel (MOX) program at Savannah River? Is DOE’s internal cost assessment consistent with ANA’s estimate of $27 billion? When will it be released? Have any nuclear reactor operators committed to using MOX fuel?

 

— Does the Request include continued funding for design and licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which private investors have been unwilling to finance fully because of concerns about viability and risks? Does DOE have plans to finance SMR construction?

 

How much additional Environmental Management (EM) funding would be necessary in FY 2015 to meet all legally mandated cleanup milestones? States say cleanup agreements at a dozen major sites are underfunded by hundreds of million dollars.

— In which states does DOE face fines and lawsuits for missing milestones due to budget shortfalls? Which states are enforcing their binding clean-up agreements by imposing fines and taking further legal action?

— What is the high range for total life-cycle clean-up costs (LCC) for EM sites Because of funding shortfalls, are LCC costs continuing to increase? In the FY 2013 Budget Request High Range LCC was $308.5 billion, and in the FY 2014 Request LCC was $330.9 billion.
— Does the FY 2015 Request include funds to cleanup contamination from the recent radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)?  How much will this incident delay shipments from the Idaho National Lab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, and Oak Ridge?

— How much money is included for construction of new double-shell tanks to replace those leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford site? Are funds included for emergency pumping of tanks found to be leaking?

— Is DOE allocating sufficient funds to monitor and address ignitable hydrogen gas buildup in Hanford’s nuclear waste tanks as recommended by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to protect workers, the public and the environment from possible explosions?

— Is an independent review of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant included in the budget request to address concerns about the reliability of many of the parts and materials?

– How much money is DOE allocating for building and development of the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant based on the current, flawed design and how much on redesign?

— For information about specific DOE nuclear weapons sites and programs, contact:

Meredith Crafton – Hanford: (206) 292-2850 x26 meredithc@hanfordchallenge.org

Tom Clements – Savannah River and MOX Plant: (803) 240-7268 tomclements329@cs.com

Jay Coghlan – Los Alamos Lab and Life Extension: (505) 989-7342 jay@nukewatch.org

Don Hancock – Environmental Management Program: (505) 262-1862 sricdon@earthlink.net

Ralph Hutchison – Oak Ridge Site and Dismantlement: (865) 776-5050 orep@earthlink.net

Marylia Kelley – Livermore Lab and Life Extension: (925)-443-7148 marylia@trivalleycares.org

 

WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated

WIPP Update Feb 27 2014 – 13 Employees Contaminated

I’ll remind us all that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site is NOT a National Security site. It is a fancy landfill. There are really no secret programs there to protect. Maybe there are some secret parts buried there, but they have long-since been crushed. There is no reason to withhold news. The waste streams are well known and exactly where they are emplaced in WIPP is also well known. When the public gets news from WIPP officials, we deserve to have our questions answered clearly with all the important facts included.

Our best wishes go out to the employees.

Here’s the February 26, 2014 letter from the U.S. Department of Energy – Carlsbad Field Office, which provides oversight of the private contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, that currently manages and operates WIPP. Unfortunately, this letter raises many questions. Below are each of the paragraphs of the letter, followed by my questions and comments.

First Paragraph –

This morning (February 26), the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14 were notified that they have tested positive for radiological contamination. Employees were notified within about 12 hours of the receipt of preliminary sample results.

Ok, “the 13 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) employees that were on site the evening of February 14,” sounds like there were only 13 employees at WIPP on Feb 14. But the February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release states, “All non-essential employees were off-site by 5:30 PM MST.” The February 15, 2014, 9:17 PM WIPP press release also states, “No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” I guess we are to read this as, “No contamination has been found ON any personnel.”

Questions raised –

How many employees were onsite when?

Were the 13 contaminated employees essential or non-essential?

Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed?

How does an employee inhale rads and not have any on them?

 

Second Paragraph –

At the time of the event, these employees were performing above ground operations, and federal oversight duties at the WIPP facility. Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the site contractor, requested that all workers on site the night of the event submit follow-up bioassay samples as they were considered more likely to have indications of potential exposure. Additional samples will be collected from these employees in the weeks ahead in order to perform complete analyses.

Questions raised –

When did Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC request the bioassay samples from the night workers?

What made them “more-likely” to be exposed? What exactly were they doing?

Were the non-essential employees (how many?) that left by 5:30 bioassayed? When was this request made?

 

Third Paragraph –

It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed. However, on-site sampling and surveys and environmental monitoring, to date, continue to support National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling, which indicates that airborne contamination was likely at very low levels.

Questions raised –

Where is the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling? The public must be allowed to read any and all reference documents. And by the way, NARAC is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is a Department of Energy site. 

 

Fourth Paragraph –

The material for this release event is transuranic radionuclides. The release material was predominantly americium-241, material which is consistent with the waste disposed of at the WIPP. This is a radionuclide used in consumer smoke detectors and a contaminant in nuclear weapons manufacturing.

Questions raised –

Really? Smoke detectors? Here’s from the EPA

As long as the radiation source stays in the detector, exposures would be negligible (less than about 1/100 of a millirem per year), since alpha particles cannot travel very far or penetrate even a single sheet of paper, and the gamma rays emitted by americium are relatively weak. If the source were removed, it would be very easy for a small child to swallow, but even then exposures would be very low because the source would pass through the body fairly rapidly (by contrast, the same amount of americium in a loose powdered form would give a significant dose if swallowed or inhaled). Still, its not a good idea to separate the source from the detector apparatus.

All the americium at WIPP is the byproduct of Cold War nuclear weapons production. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) explains the health effects of americium.

The radiation from americium is the primary cause of adverse health effects from absorbed americium. Upon entering the body by any route of exposure, americium moves relatively rapidly through the body and is deposited on the surfaces of the bones where it remains for a long time. As americium undergoes radioactive decay in the bone, alpha particles collide with nearby cell matter and give all of their energy to this cell matter. The gamma rays released by decaying americium can travel much farther before hitting cellular material, and many of these gamma rays leave the body without hitting or damaging any cell matter. The dose from this alpha and gamma radiation can cause changes in the genetic material of these cells that could result in health effects such as bone cancers.

 

Fifth Paragraph – Here it states that inhalation did employees did occur.

Determining employee dose typically involves multiple sample analyses to determine employee’s radionuclide excretion rate over time. This allows the lab to estimate the employee’s accumulated internal dose. The time this process takes depends largely on the solubility of the inhaled particulate, with less water-soluble radioactive materials requiring more samples and time to accurately estimate the dose. Follow-up urine samples may require about three or more weeks to accurately predict dose.

 

Sixth Paragraph –

We are now focusing our sampling program on employees with work assignments that may have placed them at greater risk, including those on shift February 15. We are still reviewing staff assignments to determine if additional employees will need to be tested. However, employees who feel they were assigned positions or functions that placed them at risk will be included in follow-up bioassay monitoring at their request.

Questions raised –

How many employees were working on the 15th? Were they wearing safety protection?

What is the criterion “to determine if additional employees will need to be tested”?

 

Seventh Paragraph –

There is no risk to family or friends of these employees. As we learn more information, we will continue to share. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact 1-800-336-9477. Thank you.

Questions raised –

What is the current status at the site?

Are employees working there now?

Are they wearing protective gear?

 

There apparently is a Press Conference today (Feb27 2014) at 3pm MST.

WIPP update Feb 26 2014

The New York Times ran a WIPP story today, NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY SET TO REOPEN AFTER LEAK, New York Times — February 26, 2014, By Matthew L. Wald

This is a good example of what is known, what is being said, and what is not being said.

1. One shaft has a filter with a monitor and three don’t. The article, and many others, quotes a WIPP press release,

But late on Feb. 14, at an hour when no one was in the mine, an air monitor indicated the presence of radioactive contamination. An automated system cut off most of the ventilation and routed the exhaust through filters that are supposed to capture 99.97 percent of all contamination, turning off fans and changing the air flow, in less than one minute. 

At WIPP, there are 4 ways for air to get to the surface – the Exhaust Shaft, the Salt Shaft, the Air Intake Shaft, and the Waste Handling Shaft. When radioactive contamination is detected, airflow is directed to the Exhaust Shaft as its filter is put into place. This shaft has the only filter and monitors on any of the shafts. WIPP officials claim that it was a monitor in Panel 7 that detected radiation and set into action the sending of all the air to the Exhaust Shaft. The Panel 7 monitor is around 2000 feet from the shafts. This means that the WIPP officials were relying on any contamination to set off the monitor before any contamination went up a shaft. We need a layout of the monitors, and if they were working, in the underground.

 

2. “Safe levels” of radioactivity? The article quotes a WIPP monitor,

“For someone living in town, I would say the dose was probably zero,” Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an independent monitoring organization that is part of New Mexico State University, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said that the event would not add to background levels of radiation — including bomb fallout — any more than an eyedropper full of water would contribute to the rise in the level of the Pacific Ocean.

Seriously, an eyedropper in the Pacific? I had to look it up

There are over 70 cubic million miles in the Pacific Ocean. Meaning there are 188,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons in the pacific ocean. That is 187 quintillion gallons.

No problem, unless you eat the fish that drank that drop. Anyway, I don’t believe anyone knows how much radiation was released. The preliminary results are based on a ridiculously small number of air samples. The official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely.

 

3. Then, it was explained how to get dosed –

Even in the desert, the danger to humans was small, the mine’s operators said. The highest reading from the monitors indicated that a person could have inhaled radioactive material that would emit a dose, over the person’s lifetime, of 3.4 millirem, an amount roughly equal to three days of natural background radiation. But to get the dose, the person would have had to stand for hours in the desert, on the downwind side of the plant.

Again, the official projections are based on the implication that the samples represent the maximum contamination, which is unlikely. We await the many soil samples that will shed light on the actual amounts.

 

 

WIPP Update Feb 25 2014

Let’s start with what we know.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the Nation’s only operating geologic repository for nuclear waste. WIPP can legally only accept a very specific type of waste – transuranic (TRU) waste generated at defense-related nuclear facilities.  “Transuranic” refers to atoms of man-made elements that are heavier (higher in atomic number) than uranium. The most prominent element in most TRU waste is plutonium. Some TRU waste consists of items such as soil, rags, tools, and laboratory equipment contaminated with radioactive materials. Other forms of TRU waste include organic and inorganic residues or even entire enclosed contaminated cases in which radioactive materials were handled.

The WIPP underground is 2150 feet below the surface. And will consist of 8 separate panels with 7 football field-sized rooms per panel. (Two additional panels, 9 & 10, are to be placed in the existing tunnels that lead to Panels 1 – 8.) WIPP has a legal maximum capacity of 175,564 m3 and is currently starting to fill Panel 7.

 

Timeline –

At 12:25 p.m.  February 5, 2014, – Shortly after 11 a.m., an underground vehicle used to transport salt is on fire in the underground.

At 11:30 PM Friday February 14, 2014, a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground.

Sometime on Saturday February 15, 2014, a filter aboveground at the fence line of the WIPP facility (Location A) was sampled. The field preliminary analysis showed .87 Bq. (EPA’s action level for the isotopes of concern is 37 Bq.)

Sometime on February 17 & 18, 2014, more samples were taken from other monitors and also from Location A, which showed a much lower reading (.04 Bq) than it did three days earlier. http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Environmental%20Sampling%20Results.pdf

 

Are the fire and the release related?

On the surface I would have to say yes. The first large fire in the underground was followed by first release 9 days later. But the 9 days is a problem. Apparently nothing happened for 9 days after the fire then something happened to cause the release of radionuclides aboveground. Did the fire somehow loosen the ceiling 2000’ away? Maybe, but right now, I have to think that it is a freak coincidence, because we don’t know the cause of the release.

 

Is the release serious?

Yes, WIPP is not supposed to leak for 10,000 years.

 

Is the release a threat?

Elevated levels of radionuclides can always pose a threat. The primary threat of alpha-emitters like plutonium is inhalation. Inhalation of very small amounts of plutonium can cause cancer.

The Location A monitor was some 6750 feet from the assumed source of the release, Panel 7. (2000’ from Panel 7 to the bottom of the exhaust shafts + 2150’ to the surface + ½ mile (2600’) to the monitor) Did Location A pick up a representative sample of the release? Unlikely. There are too many variables to know if the Feb 15 sample from Location A was higher or lower than the main part of the release. But the results do show that any higher risk is more than likely localized.

The map shows the seven monitoring locations. I have always thought that this was not enough monitoring locations.

 

What about the plume maps floating around the internet?

One in particular is getting some attention.

Please remember that these maps represent one possible outcome of a group of inputs entered into a NOAA computer program. We don’t know the input parameters that were used, therefore we do not know what this map is based on. This is not an actual map of where any actual plutonium actually went.

Also please notice the units.

The yellow is “1.0E-13 mass/m3”.

That would be .000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.

The blue is “1.0E-16 mass/m3”

That would be .000,000,000,000,000,1 of something per cubic meter.

It’s not nothing, but it’s not much. I would like to see what this map is based upon. This does show how well computers can crunch numbers.

 

What about claims of nuclear salt water rocket explosions in the WIPP underground?

There is a website in HungaryThat has an alert

A grim “Of Special Importance” (highest classification level) report prepared by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) circulating in the Kremlin warned that the “potentially catastrophic nuclear event” currently unfolding at the US atomic Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has prompted the White House to begin pre-staging government forces and equipment in the event a large-scale evacuation is needed, Whatdoesitmean.com reported.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to respond to Whatdoesitmean.com. There was no Rosatom/WIPP report. There are no nuclear salt-water rockets in the underground at WIPP, exploded or otherwise.

 

What to do?

In the short term let’s keep a critical ear open to the DOE story and separate out the spin. I’m waiting for the next batch of samples to be released to the public. WIPP has several proposals modify its permit in the works. Clearly, at this time, those all need to be put on hold until details of the exact cause of this accident are released to the public. The health and environmental impacts must be fully known and cleanup must be completed to everyone’s satisfaction.

The official WIPP page.

 

NM Environment Department Reclassifies WIPP Request!

Thanks to everyone’s work, the NM Environment Department has decided to get more information before allowing any leaky Hanford high-level tank waste to come to New Mexico!

NMED issued its determination to reclassify the DOE request as a class 3 – which requires a public hearing – “because there is significant public interest.”

Public comments made the difference!

There will be much more to do.

See http://www.nukewatch.org/watchblog/?p=1503 for background.

From the NMED release –
July 2, 2013
RE: ELEVATION OF CLASS 2 MODIFICATION TO REMOVE EXCLUDED WASTE PROHIBITION WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT

The New Mexico Environment Department (Department) received a permit modification
request dated April 8,2013 from the U.S. Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office and
Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC (the Permittees) on April 9,2013. The Permittees seek to
modify the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Hazardous Waste Facility Permit (Permit) and
request that the Department process the request as a Class 2 modification under the
regulations at 20.4.1.900 NMAC, incorporating 40 CFR § 270.42(b).
The request modifies the prohibition of excluded waste from the WIPP Permit.

Page 2
Under 40 CFR § 270.42(b)(6)(i)(C), the Secretary may determine that the modification
request must follow the procedures in § 270.42(c) for Class 3 modifications for the following
reasons: (1) There is significant public concern about the proposed modification; or (2) The
complex nature of the change requires the more extensive procedures of Class 3.
In this matter, I have determined that it is appropriate for the Department to process the
modification request as a Class 3 modification under 40 CFR § 270.42( c) because there is
significant public interest.
If you have questions regarding this matter please address them to Trais Kliphuis, of the
Hazardous Waste Bureau, at 476-6051 or trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us.
Sincerely,
Ryan Flynn
Cabinet Secretary-Designate

please co-sign my WIPP comments!

Dear Fellow Travelers on the Long Road to Safety at WIPP:
I am writing to you as a battle-weary compatriot. For so many New Mexicans, the merest mention of WIPP induces a glazed-over, burned-out feeling associated with the “done deal,” the “one that got away.”

Incredibly, safeguards we originally fought for at WIPP are being stealthily erased behind closed doors right now—a potential disaster for our state’s natural resources and inhabitants. What’s going on? Some of us pessimists predicted this long ago: the attempt to sneak high-level waste into a repository that was never designed for it.

Leaking liquid waste from Hanford, Washington is about to be “re-classified” so its true origin as high-level waste can be disguised long enough to drag it into our state and down to WIPP. This stuff is “Superhot,” so thermally AND radioactively hot that it poses an entirely different set of environmental risks than the plutonium-contaminated “gloves and booties” long used to exemplify WIPP waste. Yes, plutonium lasts an unimaginably long time, but it doesn’t generate as much volatile activity as this liquid waste. The new high-level waste from Hanford is hot enough–both kinds of hot–to blast bigger, faster escape pathways out of the WIPP site that the longer-lasting waste could then travel along. The result? The Rustler Aquifer, Pecos River, Rio Grande and Gulf of Mexico hit by a nasty soup of chemical and radioactive debris that could last almost forever.

If the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, designed from day one to hold high-level waste, couldn’t even attain certification, why should we get stuck with waste for which our dump was never intended? Especially when we got so many promises over the years from politicians that this scenario was illegal and could never come to pass?

I am asking you to consider the written comments I have prepared for our state Environment Department and, if you agree, to add your name to them. I’m asking this because I bet you don’t all have time to write your own lengthy treatises on the subject. We all see that it’s disgraceful for our elected officials to look the other way, clear their throats, hum and whistle a jaunty tune as decades of promises are broken and centuries of pollution recklessly set in motion. Shouldn’t we have public hearings when a change of this magnitude is being considered?

If you agree with me, please co-sign my comments below, and add anything else you’d like at the bottom…
(Fill in your name and contact info, then copy into an email)
…and submit before 5 p.m. on June 10 (yes, next Monday, sorry)
to:
trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us

Thanks. Sasha Pyle, Santa Fe (WIPP gadfly since the 1980’s with CCNS, NukeWatch and ANA)

SHOULD THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT IN NEW MEXICO RECEIVE RE-NAMED HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE?

Written Comment Submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department
June 2013

Trais Kliphuis
New Mexico Environment Department
2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1
Santa Fe, NM 87505

WIPP has been controversial for nearly three decades already, among scientists and citizens concerned about its safety. Now, long after the initial public outcry, it seems that the facility is quietly on the verge of seeing its mission and its risks expanded significantly, but this time with quite limited opportunities for public comment. WIPP opened against a substantial tide of opposition. But that does not mean it has carte blanche today to alter its course in ways that substantially increase its potential to taint New Mexico’s resources and future inhabitants. Any change to its operations that renders it more dangerous should be accompanied by at least the same level of scrutiny as its original mission. The fact that it is already receiving waste does not mean it is suddenly appropriate for any radwaste that anyone in the rest of the country wants to get rid of.

It is interesting to note that if WIPP were proposed today, it likely would never get the green light to begin operations. Discussion of appropriate nuclear waste disposal technologies has largely shifted over the last quarter-century to above-ground retrievable and monitored storage of dangerous nuclear materials, hence away from deep geologic repositories–much less those that are designed explicitly to render the waste invisible and irretrievable, an environmentally irresponsible approach at best–and one that only WIPP employs. Promoted as a “Pilot Plant,” WIPP is now destined to be the only one of its kind. There is literally nowhere else to build the dozens of equally large repositories that would be required to solve the nation’s nuclear waste backlog. WIPP is an idea whose time has come and gone.

A crisis of leaking tanks of liquid high-level Cold War waste at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Reservation in Washington State has provided the impetus for the current push to redefine WIPP’s mission. Anyone knowledgeable in nuclear waste issues knows that the Hanford crisis is very real. A perennial nuclear contractor, Bechtel Corporation, is working on a 13 billion dollar contract (triple the original estimate) of taxpayer money to complete a waste treatment plant that would address the Hanford waste, and they have failed to do so. The question facing us now is: should New Mexico be punished for Bechtel’s (and DOE’s) failure?

Equally importantly, if WIPP cannot solve more than a minute fraction of the Hanford crisis, is it worth exponentially increasing long-term environmental hazards at the WIPP site–only to leave Hanford still polluted as well?

If the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, which was expressly configured for high-level waste, could not attain certification, doesn’t that mean there are clear standards that must be met for disposal of these very dangerous materials? How is it possible that a completely different type of facility could be magically re-designated for this purpose when its very design and construction are not appropriate to meet those standards?

It is a matter of record that New Mexicans have been repeatedly promised that this use of WIPP would never come to pass. The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Bill, reflecting input from New Mexico’s Legislature, Congressional delegation, Governor, Attorney General, and Environment Department (at the public’s insistence) clearly protects New Mexicans from such weakening of the WIPP permit. EPA containment standards, mandating a 10,000 year period of non-migration; an upper limit on the quantities of waste that would come to WIPP; and a stringent adherence to acceptance of only transuranic waste are all stipulated in the Land Withdrawal Bill and carry the force of law.

Additionally, in 2004, the excluded waste prohibition (agreed upon by NMED, EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy) amended the final language of the WIPP permit to specifically exclude from disposal at WIPP: tank waste and any waste “previously managed as high level waste.” Alteration of this would require a Class 3 Permit Modification request, thus allowing hearings for public input. DOE’s own language makes clear that undoing the waste exclusion would be a modification requiring a full public comment cycle.

According to the EPA, Class 1 and Class 2 modifications do not substantially alter existing permit conditions or significantly affect the overall operation of the facility. Class 3 modifications cover major changes that substantially alter the facility or its operations.

The current attempt to re-classify high-level waste so as to bring it to WIPP, and the designation of this change in policy as a Class 2 modification, patently violate this prohibition.

Waste that is not allowed into our state by one name cannot be allowed to enter under another name. Re-naming the high-level waste “transuranic” when it hits our border in no way addresses the major scientific concerns about its safe disposal. The attempt to run this major change through as a Class 2 modification is deceptive and illegal. Violating the Land Withdrawal Bill and the 2004 waste exclusion would be legally actionable at once.

If New Mexicans have been promised repeatedly, with the force of law, in 1992 and 2004 and many other points over the last 30 years, that high level waste would not come to WIPP, what has changed—besides the Administration?

This raises the question: is WIPP regulated according to the physical reality of what will actually happen to nuclear waste underground, or by the artifice of paper-shuffling and magic language, mere words on paper that happen above ground–and have no relation to the site itself, its toxic contents, and its containment performance over the very long future? And it also raises the question: was WIPP’s purpose truly to solve some fraction of our nation’s nuclear waste crisis, or merely to give the appearance of doing so, to keep tax dollars flowing into nuclear weapons (and hence, waste) production?

The site and the science of WIPP have always been shaky, and widely contested. It is likely the repository will be unable to safely contain even the waste for which it was built. Introducing a new “Superhot” waste stream—both thermally and radioactively much hotter than plutonium-dusted “gloves and booties” (a famous DOE description of WIPP waste)–could greatly accelerate the formation of a hot radioactive slurry that will force escape pathways open from the site. The long-lasting plutonium-contaminated waste for which WIPP was originally built could thus find its way into the biosphere much more quickly and widely once the “Superhot” waste has spurred the formation of waste migration pathways. WIPP has always run the risk of eventually polluting the Rustler Aquifer, the Pecos River, the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Do we really want that to happen on a larger scale, with a wider variety of radioactive and chemical pollutants, with greatly increased radioactivity, and much sooner? Is that to be our gift to the region’s inhabitants in the future?

We already have to live with the facility’s unknown and unquantifiable risks. Expanding the mission augments these risks unacceptably.

Would allowing one kind of high-level waste to be buried at WIPP open the door to the specter of spent fuel rods coming our way? Are we supposed to solve every nuclear crisis in the country, to become our nation’s nuclear outhouse? This shift in mission is no minor technicality; it represents an enormous turnaround in national waste disposal policy.

If scientific consensus was divided on WIPP’s original mission, it is not divided on the dangers of using a salt repository to contain high-level waste. The hydrophilic (water-attracting) nature of salt as a disposal medium, already extremely dubious as a choice for transuranic waste, is even more inappropriate for waste streams with the heat and radioactivity of high-level waste. This change does not have support from the technical community, only from people who hope to profit from expanding WIPP’s mission.

Here in New Mexico we have a sizeable community of people who are quite familiar with the process of speaking at public hearings on nuclear issues. Many dozens of organizations, and hundreds (indeed, thousands) of individual citizens have testified at NEPA hearings over the years on nuclear issues relating to mission alterations at Los Alamos, specific proposed facilities, cleanup, DOE “Modernization,” and so on. Although the National Environmental Policy Act is not the dominant governing legislation for this permit modification, NEPA has conditioned citizens to expect their “day in court” when they can speak about the nuclear industries that loom so large in our state history and landscape. People expect to present oral commentary and back it up with written submissions. NMED should expect no less from the public.

Now NMED must fulfill its Constitutional obligation to protect New Mexico from risky abuses of natural resources necessary for life and survival in this region. NMED’s job is to regulate. Political arguments and pressure for jobs will always form a large part of the chatter any time nuclear projects are proposed. Boosters will predictably focus on the jobs side of the equation. It is not NMED’s mandate to promote these boom-and-bust jobs that will be long forgotten while the radioactive and chemical materials are still threatening our descendants, 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now. It is NMED’s job to prevent contamination of our land and its inhabitants, no matter which Administration sits in the Roundhouse.

No matter how many closed-door meetings are held, no matter how hidden this process is from public view, no matter how many attempts are made to minimize public awareness and input, we are watching very closely to see what NMED’s legacy will be. We believe the regulatory framework for WIPP should be bedrock, not shifting sands of expediency that erode and eventually collapse public confidence in government. NMED must deny the permit modification request, and it must deny its viability as a Class 2 request.

We also know that if you learn of significant public demand for real hearings, you are obligated to provide them. Consider this a statement of public demand, please. Thank you for your consideration.

_________________________
name
_________________________
city
_________________________
state

WIPP Proposes to Eliminate Waste Sampling – Comments Needed!

WIPP Proposes to Eliminate Waste Sampling – Speak Out!

Since the Department of Energy (DOE) opened the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in 1999, the transuranic (TRU-plutonium-contaminated) waste has been subjected to chemical sampling and laboratory analysis to determine what toxic chemicals are present before the waste can be shipped to WIPP. The WIPP operating permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has required headspace gas sampling of non-solidified waste and coring of solidified waste to help determine toxic chemicals and their concentrations. DOE now wants to eliminate all requirements for headspace gas and solids sampling from the WIPP permit. But people can speak out about DOE’s plans!
Read the fact sheet here.

Submit written comments to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).
Tell NMED:
I am very concerned that eliminating sampling of waste bound for WIPP would reduce health and safety protections because such analysis is still needed, including for the many waste streams that have not yet been sampled. NMED should deny the request. Any future requests to reduce or eliminate sampling should only be made after the kind of systematic approach recommended by the National Academy of Sciences is carried out and made public and after representative sampling is done for waste streams that have not yet been shipped to WIPP.

The deadline for written comments to NMED is February 18, 2013. Submit to:
Trais Kliphuis, New Mexico Environment Department, 2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1, Santa Fe, NM 87505, or
E-mail: trais.kliphuis@state.nm.us
The complete 301-page permit modification request (13 MB) can be found at:
http://www.wipp.energy.gov/rcradox/rfc/Class_2_PMR.pdf

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