Barrels filled with transuranic waste fail inspection, remain at lab’s Plutonium Facility
Nine containers full of transuranic waste are stuck at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility after the Carlsbad Waste Isolation Pilot Plant refused to take them in back in July.
The containers, which hold waste items such as gloves, tools and other items that have come into contact with radiological materials, were scheduled to be shipped to WIPP during the week of July 26.
The Department of Energy’s contractor N3B that operates WIPP inspected the drums at LANL prior to the shipping date and determined that the drums contained materials that could combust.
N3B Spokesman Todd Nelson said that there was never a chance the containers would have made it to WIPP in the condition they were in.
“N3B evaluates all containers prior to shipment, and if necessary, remediates them to meet the WIPP waste acceptance criteria,” Nelsonsaid.
Nelson said N3B took prior steps to ensure compliance.
Seven of the containers are owned by N3B, two of them are owned by Triad National Security, the lab’s management and operations contractor.
“During a routine evaluation of drums at LANL’s Technical Area 54 prior to shipment, radiography identified what appears to be vermiculite or other granular material in the containers that historically could have been used to absorb liquids, including potentially oxidizing chemicals. This is a prohibited combination for WIPP certification,” Nelson said.
Inspectors said all of the containers failed the inspection.
“These containers specifically failed to meet the Basis of Knowledge requirements for oxidizing chemicals that DOE established to preclude another energetic chemical reaction and radioactive material release at WIPP,” said onsite
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board inspectors in a July 26 report. “These energetic reactions can result in greater airborne respirable releases of radioactive material than is typically analyzed.”
In February 2014, when the lab was managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, nuclear waste and organic kitty litter inside a drum from LANL burst, leading radiological material in the underground storage area at WIPP. An investigation found that the wrong type of kitty litter was used in the packing of the drum.
No workers were permanently injured in the accident, but the plant was closed for three years for cleanup and renovations to the underground storage facility’s ventilation system.
According to August 2016 estimates from the Government Accountability Office, it cost about $300 million to recover and restart the plant.
According to the July 26 Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report, Triad and N3B knew about the hazards of mixing organic material with transuranic waste, “but N3B did not declare a (Potential Inadequacies of the Safety Analysis) because they believe these reactions are adequately covered by existing accidents that are modeled as flammable gas deflagrations,” a statement in the report said.
“In contrast, the approved safety basis for the Transuranic Waste Facility acknowledges that releases from these energetic events could be 2–3 orders of magnitude greater than is analyzed for deflagrations,” according to the report.
The containers remain stored in Technical Area 54 Area G, the Plutonium Facility, at LANL pending their routine remediation and eventual WIPP certification.
Inspectors said Triad and N3B will need to provide more information before they can ship the containers.
“Triad and N3B will need to either provide additional information to substantiate compliance with the Basis of Knowledge requirements or perform treatment to eliminate the hazard,” the same inspectors said in an Aug. 9 report.
According to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the nine containers bring the total number of containers to 24 that are stored within the fabric domes at Area G and on the outdoor waste pads at the lab’s Plutonium Facility.
The report further stated as an example that LANL’s Central Characterization Program rejected the containers on the storage pads at the Plutonium Facility because Triad officials could not identify a liquid that was absorbed by “an engineered organic polymer sorbent in an unknown ratio.”
Triad has submitted more information about the liquid to the LANL Central Characterization Program, for further evaluation.