A new assessment finds that Department of Energy (DOE) is not conducting effective oversight of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) beryllium program, or of safety and health programs in general. In addition, DOE is not maintaining sufficient technical capability and knowledge of site and contractor activities to make informed decisions about hazards and risks. DOE indicated the lack of sufficient safety and health resources has presented a challenge to achieving effective oversight in this area.
Over the last decade funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) nuclear weapons programs has increased 20%. However, funding for needed cleanup has remained flat at one-tenth of the almost $2 billion requested for nuclear weapons programs in FY 2020. Nuclear weapons funding is slated to keep climbing under the $1.7 trillion 30-year nuclear weapons “modernization” program begun under Obama. Trump is adding yet more money, and is accelerating the new arms race with Russia by adding two new types of nuclear weapons. Cleanup funding, on the other hand, is doomed to stay flat for the next two decades because the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) under Gov. Martinez gutted a 2005 “Consent Order” that would have forced the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL to get more money for cleanup.
The Holtec U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) nuclear regulatory panel has spoken. None of the contentions by any of the intervenors was admitted. Not even a pretense of allowing public participation. No one — Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, Fasken, AFES, transportation intervenors — was allowed any contentions.
On January 29, 2019, DOE’s Office of Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC (NWP), the managing and operating contractor for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP), of its intent to investigate heat stress-related events and chemical exposures at WIPP. The events, occurring from July through October 2018, include multiple overexposures to hazardous chemicals, including carbon tetrachloride, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, as well as a series of heat-stress incidents.
At some point, DOE will have to admit that it has no idea what it will cost to cleanup the Cold War nuclear weapons complex sites. DOE should stop making more wastes until the existing wastes are remediated. The new estimate is more that twice the amount that has been spent in total since cleanup began in 1989, with the most difficult sites still to come.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Clean Up, Don’t Build Up!
The thing is that the new $377 billion estimate includes leaving much of the waste behind.
The Department of Energy is tasked with cleaning up waste from Cold War nuclear weapons production, much of which is hazardous or radioactive. The department’s Office of Environmental Management estimates that future work could cost at least $377 billion—$109 billion more than last year’s estimate.
Testimony Calls Out Continued DOE Cost Estimating Mismanagement
Given that DOE has challenges estimating almost all large projects, taxpayers must push to spend on cleanup first. Both nuclear weapons and environmental management estimates keep increasing. We can keep spending on dangerous nuclear weapons that we don’t need, or we can finally focus on cleaning up the Cold War mess.
Since the end of the Cold War, it is claimed that much of the nuclear weapons production infrastructure has become outdated, prompting congressional and executive branch decision makers to call on DOE to develop plans to modernize. The Department of Defense’s (DOD) 2010 Nuclear Posture Review identified long-term modernization wishes and alleged requirements. In January 2017, the President directed the Secretary of Defense to initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to meet the Administration’s vision. This review was released in February 2018.
GAO has found that NNSA’s estimates of funding needed for its modernization plans exceeded the budgetary projections included in the President’s own modernization budgets. And the costs of some major modernization programs—such as for nuclear weapon Life Extension Programs (LEPs) — may also increase and further bust future modernization budgets.
The LEPs facing potential cost increases include:
B61-12 LEP. An independent cost estimate for the program completed in October 2016 exceeded the program’s self-conducted cost estimate from June 2016 by $2.6 billion.
W80-4 LEP. Officials from NNSA’s Office of Cost Policy and Analysis told us that this program may be underfunded by at least $1 billion to meet the program’s existing schedule
W88 Alteration 370. According to officials from NNSA’s Office of Cost Policy and Analysis, this program’s expanded scope of work may result in about $1 billion in additional costs.
EM is responsible for decontaminating and decommissioning nuclear facilities and sites that are contaminated from decades of nuclear weapons production and nuclear energy research. In February 2017, GAO reported that, since its inception in 1989, EM has spent over $164 billion on cleanup efforts, which include retrieving, treating, and disposing of nuclear waste.
GAO found that the federal government’s environmental liability has been growing for the past 20 years—and is likely to continue to increase—and that DOE is responsible for over 80 percent ($372 billion) of the nearly $450 billion reported environmental liability. Notably, this estimate does not reflect all of the future cleanup responsibilities that DOE may face.
As NNSA works to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, EM is addressing the legacy of 70 years of nuclear weapons production. These activities generated large amounts of radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, excess plutonium and uranium, and contaminated soil and groundwater. They also contaminated thousands of sites and facilities, including land, buildings, and other structures and their systems and equipment. Various federal laws, agreements with states (including New Mexico), and court decisions require the federal government to clean up environmental hazards at federal sites and facilities, such as nuclear weapons production facilities. For years, GAO and others have reported on shortcomings in DOE’s approach to addressing its environmental liabilities, including incomplete data on the extent of cleanup needed.
EM has some budget issues, too.
Examples of costs that DOE cannot yet estimate include the following:
DOE has not yet developed a cleanup plan or cost estimate for the Nevada National Security Site and, as a result, the cost of future cleanup of this site was not included in DOE’s fiscal year 2015 reported environmental liability. The nearly 1,400-square-mile site has been used for hundreds of nuclear weapons tests since 1951. These activities have resulted in more than 45 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site. According to DOE’s financial statement, since DOE is not yet required to establish a plan to clean up the site, the costs for this work are excluded from DOE’s annually reported environmental liability.
DOE’s reported environmental liability includes an estimate for the cost of a permanent nuclear waste repository, but these estimates are highly uncertain and likely to increase. In March 2015, in response to the termination of the Yucca Mountain repository program, DOE proposed separate repositories for defense high-level and commercial waste. In January 2017, we reported that the cost estimate for DOE’s new approach excluded the costs and time frames for site selection and site characterization.
Rebecca Moss at the New Mexican has another hard charging article on safety lapses at the Los Alamos Lab. See “Lab might have known dangerous waste was unmarked” at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/lab-might-have-known-dangerous-waste-was-unmarked/article_19d37b31-219a-5620-954c-a62fa9620d2a.html
If the New Mexico Environment Department is claiming, as this article reports, that its revised Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a stronger enforcement tool than the original 2005 Consent Order, then it is being highly disingenuous (to put it politely).
Interested citizens should judge for themselves. The 2016 revised Consent Order is available at http://www.lanl.gov/environment/protection/compliance/order-on-consent.php
The revised Consent Order was a giveaway by NMED to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. It is clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup.
The new Consent Order allows LANL and DOE to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up. Not long after the revised Consent Order went into effect, DOE took advantage by estimating a lifetime budget that projected a top range of $3.8 billion to clean up the Lab by 2040. That works out to only around $150 million per year, when NMED is already on record that $250 million per year is needed. Most egregious of all, DOE claimed that only 5,000 cubic meters of wastes needed to be cleaned up, purposively misleading the public and politicians by willfully ignoring the ~200,000 cubic meters of radioactive and toxic wastes known to be buried in LANL’s biggest dump alone.
Some of the highlights (or perhaps better put as lowlights) of the revised Consent Order are:
“The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” P. 28. “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…” P. 32. This puts the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department
“DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” P. 29. Therefore the new Consent Order is held hostage to DOE’s budget.“… [DOE and NMED] shall meet to discuss the appropriation and any necessary revision to the forecast, e.g. DOE did not receive adequate appropriations from Congress…” P. 30. Again, the new Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when DOE’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.
“If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” P. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. P. 35. This creates giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL.
Given all this, how can NMED claim with a straight face that the 2016 revised Consent Order is a stronger enforcement tool? This is just more of the Martinez administration coddling the nuclear weapons industry in New Mexico. Indeed, NMED had the gall to give LANL more than 150 extensions to the original Consent Order, and then turned around and claimed the Consent Order was not working and replaced it with a toothless tiger. Furthermore, and this is telling, the main Consent Order negotiator for NMED left shortly after it was signed to go work for a DOE contractor!
New Mexicans should demand comprehensive, enforceable cleanup at the Lab, which would be a real win-win, permanently protecting our precious water resources while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.
Oppose Plans To Bring ALL the Nation’s Commercial Reactor Waste To New Mexico!
Contact your New Mexico U.S. Representative ASAP!
Contact Information and Sample Request are Below
Please vote against Shimkus Nuclear Waste Bill
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois) succeeded in rushing his high-level radioactive waste dump/centralized interim storage facility (including parts targeted at New Mexico!) legislation past the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee he chairs.
Title I of the bill provides that the DOE Secretary could enter into agreements to pay for private storage facilities, such as the Holtec site in Eddy and Lea Counties in New Mexico. That would change the existing law’s prohibitions of such DOE action, which have been in place for 35 years.
If a centralized interim storage facility, or “de facto permanent parking lot dump,” is opened at the Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance (ELEA) site near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, incredibly large numbers of high-level radioactive shipments could come to NM. ELEA is a scheme being promoted by the New Jersey-based Holtec International irradiated nuclear fuel shipping/storage container company. Holtec submitted its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a 40-year license to store 100,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel. There are currently 80,000 metric tons stored at reactors around the country.
ALL the commercial spent fuel in the country could end up in New Mexico, which has no commercial reactors and did not generate any of this waste.
Please note that Ben Ray Luján (Democrat-New Mexico-3rd U.S. Congressional District) <http://lujan.house.gov/> serves on the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. If you reside in his district, it is especially important that you contact him ASAP, urging his leadership in opposing this bill! And please urge your friends, neighbors, family, etc. to do the same!
If you reside elsewhere in New Mexico, please contact your own U.S. Representative. This bill will impact the entire state of New Mexico — in fact, it will impact the entire country!
BEN RAY LUJÁN (Democrat-NM’s 3rd U.S. Congressional District)
Washington, D.C. office direct phone number: (202) 225-6190
Santa Fe Office, Ph: (505) 984-8950
MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (Democrat-NM’s 1st U.S. Congressional District)
Email Link <https://lujangrisham.house.gov/contact>
Washington, D.C. Office: Ph:(202) 225-6316
Albuquerque Office: Ph: (505) 346-6781
U.S. Rep. STEVE PEARCE (Republican-NM’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District)
Subject: Please vote against Shimkus Nuclear Waste Bill
Please convey to Rep. Lujan our strong opposition to the Shimkus unnumbered nuclear waste bill that was reported by the Environment Subcommittee of E&C on June 15. We ask that he vote against the bill during full committee markup. We also urge him to speak against the bill and voice New Mexico’s objections to being targeted for ALL of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel.
Title I of the bill provides that the DOE Secretary could enter into agreements to pay for private storage facilities, such as the Holtec site in New Mexico and Waste Control Specialists in Texas. That would change the existing law’s prohibitions of such DOE action, which have been in place for 35 years.
Such a change is unwarranted because spent fuel can stay at the existing reactor storage sites, would allow for unnecessary and dangerous transportation across the nation, and supports a false premise that New Mexicans support such a facility. As the Congressman knows, that is not true. New Mexicans opposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste coming to WIPP, which resulted in the prohibition of such waste in the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act.
New Mexicans and many tribal members opposed the private storage facility proposed on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in the 1990s. New Mexicans continue to oppose bringing spent fuel to the state. The Holtec license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission states that the site would be designed for 100,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel. That’s ALL of the spent fuel that currently exists (less than 80,000 metric tons), plus decades more of spent fuel production at nuclear power plants.
The bill also has many objectionable provisions related to Yucca Mountain, western water and land rights, reducing environmental protections, among many other things.
Nuclear Watch NM Amends LANL Cleanup Lawsuit – Claims New Consent Order To Be Invalid
Nuclear Watch New Mexico has amended its federal lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) that alleges twelve violations of a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Those violations could result in potential penalties of more than $300 million dollars that would go to the state, if only the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were to enforce them.
Nuclear Watch now asks the court to declare the new 2016 Consent Order to be invalid because the requirement for the opportunity of a public hearing was not met.
NMED intervened in the case on June 23, 2016. The next day, NMED and DOE signed the 2016 Consent Order after a 60-day comment period, during which over 40 citizens, nonprofit organizations, public officials, and two Pueblos provided comments. Lack of enforceability and lack of concrete long-term schedules were common major foci of the comments. Despite that, “No change” without any further explanation was NMED’s overwhelming response to specific public comments as the two agencies moved from the draft to final Consent Order.
The finalized new Consent Order surrenders enforceability by creating a giant loophole where DOE and LANL can avoid cleanup by claiming that it is either too expensive or impractical. This is clearly the opposite of what is needed, when nuclear weapons research and production programs that caused the mess to begin with are receiving increased taxpayer funding, while cleanup programs are being cut.
In addition, NMED’s new Consent Order explicitly absolves DOE and LANS of past violations. In response, Nuclear Watch has added to its lawsuit this request for declaratory judgment by the court that DOE and NMED violated the public’s right for the opportunity of a formal hearing, explicitly required by the 2005 Consent Order.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Research Director, noted, “We will not let the public’s right for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab be papered over by DOE and NMED. Both agencies agreed to all parts of the 2005 Consent Order, which included rigorous public participation requirements and a detailed the cleanup schedule, including a final compliance date. We will continue to push for the public to have a true voice in these important matters. ”
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Attorney John E. Stroud are representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce timely cleanup at LANL.
Santa Fe, NM – In a classic move to avoid publicity, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced late Friday afternoon June 24 that it had finalized a new “Consent Order” to replace a 2005 Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Environment Department’s brief press release headlined “Agreement Focuses on Cleanup & Supporting Stronger Federal Funding Requests.” This is doublespeak, as the new Consent Order is a giveaway to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. The new Order is also clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup. In contrast, the new Consent Order allows them to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up.
The nuclear weaponeers are now openly talking about the “The Second Nuclear Age” before cleaning up form the first nuclear age. They are actively seeking to expand nuclear weapons production that caused the widespread contamination to begin with, particularly plutonium pit production at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs. But yet the Environment Department fails New Mexicans by failing to enforce cleanup at Los Alamos.”
When NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn announced a draft new Consent Order on March 30, he claimed that the old Consent Order did not work. Nuclear Watch agrees, but that’s because Secretary Flynn granted more than 150 compliance milestone extensions at the Lab’s request, effectively eviscerating the old Consent Order. While finalizing the new Consent Order NMED ignored the explicit public participation requirements of the old Order, which among other things requires a public hearing on major modifications. Instead, NMED rammed through the final Consent Order, largely brushing aside the formal comments of some 40 concerned citizens and the Santa Clara Pueblo.
LANL is key to the trillion dollar rebuilding of nuclear forces as the premier nuclear weapons design lab and the nation’s sole production site for plutonium pit triggers, the most critical nuclear weapons components. Funding for Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons programs is nearly double historic Cold War averages, with around $1.5 billion spent annually at LANL alone. In contrast, funding for Lab cleanup has been cut to $189 million for FY 2017 (down from $225 million in FY 2014), with only approximately a third going to actual cleanup (one-third goes to pensions and another third to safeguard improperly treated radioactive waste barrels, one of which ruptured and closed the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant).
The original 2005 Consent Order required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It also stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due December 6, 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump. However, real cleanup remains decades away, if ever. Instead, the Lab plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, four miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
A few of the serious deficiencies of the new Consent Order are:
[Quotes are from the new Consent Order followed by page numbers]
• “The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” P. 28. “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…” P. 32. This puts the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department.
• “DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” P. 29. Therefore the new Consent Order will be held hostage to DOE’s budget, which recently cut LANL’s cleanup funding.
• “… [DOE and NMED] shall meet to discuss the appropriation and any necessary revision to the forecast, e.g. DOE did not receive adequate appropriations from Congress…” P. 30. Again, the new Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when DOE’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.
• “If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” P. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. P. 35. This creates giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL.
• The new draft Consent Order explicitly states that public participation requirements do NOT apply to future modifications of the Order. P. 25. This is the opposite of what the original Consent Order required, which made a point of incorporating the public process requirements of federal environmental law. Nuclear Watch New Mexico maintains that full public participation requirements apply to the new Consent Order as well, including its very formulation as a major modification of the old Consent Order. That full public participation process requires a public hearing if there are unresolved issues, which NMED has rejected, a position that may be of questionable legality.
On May 12, 2016, Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit against LANL and DOE for failing to meet compliance milestones in the old Consent Order. These violations incur around $300 million dollars in potential penalties, which NMED shows no sign of enforcing. To the contrary, NMED has filed a motion to intervene against Nuclear Watch New Mexico in its lawsuit, raising the question of whose side the Environment Department is on, the environment or the polluter (in this case a for-profit nuclear weapons lab)?
Moreover, when Nuclear Watch NM filed a notice of intent to sue on January 21, NMED Secretary Flynn sought to intimidate our lawyers by declaring “If a suit is filed, and the Environment Department becomes involved, we would insist on collecting any and all labor and legal costs from the (New Mexico Environmental Law Center) to reimburse New Mexico’s taxpayers for the costs resulting from this groundless and frivolous action.”
Far from being a frivolous action, Nuclear Watch and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center seek to compel full and genuine environmental restoration at the Los Alamos Lab, which the new Consent Order blocks by giving the nuclear weaponeers giant loopholes to avoid cleanup.
Our complaint alleged twelve counts of milestone compliance violations where NMED did not grant extensions. At that time we calculated 7,853 total days of noncompliance at $37,500.00 per day, equal to$294,487,500, with the clock still ticking.
NM Environment Department Plans to Unveil Revised Los Alamos Cleanup Agreement
March 30, 2016, 1PM, Sandia Resort
Public Comment Is Invited
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
NM Environment Department and officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory plan to roll out a draft of the revised Consent Order, which is the agreement for fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy Cold War waste from nuclear weapons production and research. The last compliance date of the original agreement was December 6, 2015, and although much investigation was completed, much more work is still needed.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes
A new schedule is mostly what is needed
Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
But we suspect big changes and not all for the better protection of Northern NM.
Your voice will be important! Please join us!
Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board Meeting
March 30, 2016
1:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Sandia Resort, Ballroom A
30 Rainbow Road
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113
Time Action Presenter
1:00 p.m. Call to Order Lee Bishop, DDFO
Welcome and Introductions Doug Sayre, Chair
Approval of Agenda
Approval of Minutes of January 27, 2016
1:20 p.m. Old Business
a. Written Reports – See Packet Enclosures (5 minutes)
b. Other items
1:30 p.m. New Business
1:35 p.m. Update from Deputy Designated Federal Officer(s)
Lee Bishop/Michael Gardipe
1:45 p.m. Presentation on Revisions to Consent Order,
Upon Opening of Public Comment Period
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn
3:00 p.m. Break
3:20 p.m. Presentation Continues
4:00 p.m. Public Comment Period
4:15 p.m. Update on FY 17/18 EM Budget Genna Hackett
4:45 p.m. Consideration and Action on Draft Recommendation 2016-02, Doug Sayre
“FY 2018 Budget Priorities”
5:00 p.m. Wrap-up Comments from NNMCAB Members
a. Were your questions answered regarding the presentations?
b. Requests for future presentations or information
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Nuclear Watch NM Gives Notice of Intent to Sue Over Lack of Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in LANL Cleanup Negotiations
Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
Treat All Los Alamos Lab Radioactive Wastes Consistently
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s role and responsibility includes gathering information regarding the hazards to the public and workers posed by the management of transuranic (TRU) wastes at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), as well as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) plans to address those hazards. The Board will examine DOE’s actions taken or inadequacies addressed in the current safety policies of the various facilities that manage or store TRU wastes at LANL. The Board is also interested in understanding actions taken to improve TRU waste management at LANL after the improper handling and treatment of TRU wastes that resulted in a ruptured barrel that shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
There are a couple of minor inaccuracies in this story, for instance – “which blazed through waste dump site “Area R.” Nor sure what this refers to.
And – “ the lab has missed several milestones, including a June 2014 deadline to remove above-ground radioactive waste — delayed due to last February’s leak at WIPP.” Technically, removing the TRU is not part of the Consent Order.
LANL misses cleanup deadline set in 2005 for largest waste site
Posted: Monday, December 7, 2015 6:45 pm | Updated: 10:41 pm, Mon Dec 7, 2015.
By Rebecca Moss
The New Mexican
A significant deadline to remove all major waste from a key Los Alamos National Laboratory site by Dec. 6 went unmet this weekend.
The deadline Sunday was set in 2005 as part of an agreement between the lab, the state Environment Department and the U.S. Department of Energy. However, officials have said the initial guidelines for cleaning up waste from decades of nuclear weapons production are no longer realistic within the time frame, following the burst of a LANL drum at a waste repository in Southern New Mexico in 2014. That caused a radiation leak that shut down a significant portion of the repository.
The shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has pushed back the completion of the cleanup project — estimated to cost more than $1 billion.
A revised cleanup agreement is anticipated for 2016, although a release date has not been scheduled.
Allison Majure, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said despite delays, the intent of the consent order for the LANL cleanup has not changed. “Just because the milestone passed does not mean the consent order is not in effect,” she said Monday.
She said public opinion has been solicited on the revised order.
Representatives for Los Alamos National Laboratory said they were unable to provide comment on the status of the order Monday.
Sunday’s deadline focused on “Area G,” LANL’s largest waste deposit site. A local watchdog group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said comprehensive cleanup for the site “is still decades away.”
In a statement released Monday, Nuclear Watch stressed the need for public participation in the revised cleanup order, including a public hearing, and condemned a plan proposed by LANL to “cap and cover” waste in Area G.
“Cleanup just keeps being delayed. If not corrected, cleanup simply won’t happen,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch.
“Nobody ever thought cleanup would be fully completed by the end of 2015; nobody is under any illusions about that,” he added.
The 2005 consent order came in response to a lawsuit between the Energy Department and the state Environment Department following several events that triggered federal pressure, including the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos in 2000, which blazed through waste dump site “Area R.” Officials at the time feared the fire could spark an explosion.
Since the consent order was issued, however, the lab has missed several milestones, including a June 2014 deadline to remove above-ground radioactive waste — delayed due to last February’s leak at WIPP.
During a meeting in November, state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said remaining cleanup costs under the 2005 order have been estimated at $1.2 billion by the federal government, but that these projections are too low; he said additional funds would be needed to meet cleanup targets, as well as the reappraisal of “unrealistic” milestones.
NukeWatch Pushes Environment Department for More Public Input in Los Alamos Cleanup
An in-depth article, Consent order facing changes, by Mark Oswald in the Albuquerque Journal (October 9, 2015) lays out how legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is being negotiated between DOE and the NM Environment Department (NMED) without the fully required public participation. The 2005 Consent Order (CO), which addresses the fence-to-fence cleanup of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of Cold War legacy radioactive and hazardous waste in the ground at the Lab, was due to reach it’s final milestone this December. For many reasons, including the closure of WIPP due to improper radioactive waste drum packing practices at LANL, the December 2015 deadline will not be meet.
Please don’t think that, just because deadlines were not reached that it was a failure. Much progress on cleanup at LANL was made under the 2005 Consent Order. About 2,100 cleanup sites were originally identified, ranging from small spills to large landfills. Cleanup of about half of the sites has been completed. Initial investigation of about 90 percent of the remaining sites has been completed. Many cleanup alternatives were also investigated at the remaining sites and options have been presented. A groundwater monitoring well infrastructure was installed, with more monitoring wells on the way.
In Oswald’s article, NMED’s Kathryn Roberts stated that, “The 2005 deal was focused on investigative work and characterization of LANL’s legacy waste.” We at NukeWatch, feel that the goal of the 2005 Consent Order was always the cleanup of LANL and that the investigations and characterization of the many waste sites were just the first steps. There are milestones in the CO, with dates, for the actual cleanup of all the legacy waste sites at Los Alamos. The lab’s final “milestone” from the 2005 Consent Order was supposed to be a “remedy completion report,” due on Dec. 6, on how Area G, the Lab’s largest waste site, had been cleaned up.
NMED and DOE/LANL are negotiating the new CO now and have publically stated plans to rollout the draft for the new CO this November for a 60-day public comment period. Nuclear Watch NM believes that these negotiations must have public input.
This gets us to one of our main reasons why we feel the need for more public input. We are concerned that the new CO will not have enforceable milestones for all cleanup projects from the beginning. Deciding every 1 to 3 years which sites will be addressed for a cleanup ‘campaign’ and then what that schedule should be will insure that Los Alamos never addresses all the sites. This would revert cleanup back to the way it was done before the 2005 Consent Order with budget driving cleanup. But the purpose of the CO is to have cleanup drive the budget. A schedule for all cleanups must be set from the beginning and the Lab must be held accountable every step along the way by getting the money and doing the work on time.
We will insist on a new final compliance date for the last milestone of the last legacy cleanup project. Cleanup at Los Alamos cannot be open-ended.
NukeWatch’s September 21 letter to NMED that explains our position that a “Class 3 Permit Modification” is required is here.
Technological civilization could reach end of its lifespan
Humanity has a 95% probability of being extinct
Pioneer 10 will pass within 3.8 light years of Barnard’s Star
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, for nuclear weapons waste, is planned to be protected until this time, with a “Permanent Marker” system designed to warn off visitors through both multiple languages (the six UN languages and Navajo) and through pictograms
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency officials are also guaranteeing that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeast New Mexico will not release larger amounts of radiation for 10,000 yrs from the time that WIPP closes. Before recent events, WIPP was to end operations in the 2030 to 2035 timeframe when the last underground waste panel was full of nuclear weapons generated transuranic waste. Then there will be a 5-10 year period where it will be filled in and closed.
This 10,000-year guarantee is reevaluated and recertified every 5 years during a Compliance Recertification Application (CRA) process. EPA, has a unique authority – included in the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act – regarding radiation. EPA could deny certification and close WIPP down. EPA last recertified WIPP in November 2010. The recertification decision is not subject to judicial review.
The protection requirement focuses on the annual radiation dose to a person living on the surface just outside the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act (LWA) boundary. In particular, the LWA requires that the “WIPP be constructed in such a manner as to provide a reasonable expectation that, for 10,000 years after disposal, undisturbed performance of the disposal system will not cause the annual committed effective dose equivalent (hereafter called “dose”) to exceed 15 millirems (mrem) (150 microsieverts) to any member of the public in the accessible environment.” (Pg. 55-1)
The difference this go ‘round is that a waste drum, improperly packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory, released radiation and contaminated 21 workers at WIPP in February 2014. WIPP has been closed since then. Hundreds of similarly improperly packaged drums are still in the underground at WIPP.
But wait, due to the CRA cycle, input data for this CRA was cut off in December 2012. It is unclear how information from the 2014 accident will impact this CRA. What is WIPP but the sum of all its operations? But DOE claims that current operations will not cause any radiation releases for the 10,000 years after WIPP closes.
How can such a claim be made? DOE uses computer modeling to do a Performance Assessment (PA). DOE claims that the information can be boiled down to a simple chart.
I can’t explain it but I was assured that that the 2014 CRA showed that WIPP was safer for 10,000 years than the 2009 CRA showed. (The solid 2014 curve is farther away the notched “Release Limits” line than the dashed red 2009 curve.) Image that – WIPP allegedly got safer in the last 5 years.
I guess the good news is that DOE and EPA are thinking about 10,000 years. The bad news is that we have to. We cannot continue to generate this waste that is only safe into the future because some software deems it so. The existing radioactive waste should be monitored and stored as close to the generating site, as safely as possible, where it was generated.
The radioactive isotope of the transuranic waste in WIPP is mostly plutonium 239. Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,000 yrs – more than twice the time addressed in this assessment.
Thanks to all who came out to the WIPP/EPA meetings last Wednesday, June 17. And thanks for your concern in this important issue.
EPA must consider including all aspects of the Feb 2014 accident in this CRA.
EPA must forward all public comments to DOE for an official response.
EPA must re-inspect LANL before it can ship to WIPP.
EPA should re-inspect and approve all waste generating sites related to waste characterization before allowing WIPP to reopen.
Do not recertify WIPP until an independent qualified organization (independent of DOE, DOE con) provides an analysis that WIPP operation meets the intents and the promises made to New Mexico, is compliant with all statutory and regulatory requirements.
NM Environment Department Starts Clock on Four Legacy Waste Penalties at LANL
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has sent notices to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that the State intends to assess penalties for four environmental reports that have missed required deadlines. Each report could be subject to penalties of $1000 per day for the first 30 days late and $3000 per day thereafter starting at the date of the notice. These four assessments for FY2015 reports under the Consent Order (CO) showed up on the Los Alamos Electronic Public Reading Room (EPRR) daily notifications.
These four are the first Stipulated Penalties since 2009 that have assessed by NMED under the 2005 Consent Order. In January 2012, the State and DOE/LANL agreed to a “Framework Agreement”, which focused on shipping transuranic (TRU) waste from LANL to WIPP, and put the CO on the back burner. We believe that there were no Stipulated Penalties Lists at all for FY13 and FY14. NMED granted approximately 100 extensions to CO deliverables during this time, which were not subject to penalties.
Before the beginning of each DOE fiscal year (October 1st) NMED and DOE/LANS work out which 15 deliverables to the CO will have potential penalties attached during the upcoming fiscal year. These deliverables are documents or reports that cover activities required under the 2005 Consent Order, which lays out the fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy waste on the Lab’s 36 square miles. For instance, after a mandatory monitoring well is drilled, a Well Completion Report would be required. Each year there may be 40 to 50 or so deliverables required by the State, of which only 15 are chosen to be subject to penalties for being late or deficient.
TRU waste shipments stopped in February 2014 when a TRU waste drum (improperly packaged at LANL) overheated and released radiation in the underground at WIPP. The radiation reached the surface of WIPP and contaminated 21 workers. This TRU waste at LANL is not actually covered under the Consent Order, but much of the aboveground TRU (originally scheduled to be shipped before 2012) is physically in the way of CO cleanup at the Lab.
These CO Stipulated Penalties may seem small compared the potential $100 million fines, but the Consent Order itself is the primary driver for cleanup at the Lab. There are millions of cubic meters of hazardous and radioactive wastes and contaminated backfill buried at LANL. These wastes will pose a permanent threat to our aquifer unless removed.
“The Consent Order was designed to keep pressure on cleanup of legacy waste at Los Alamos. Penalties for missed deadlines are aimed at forcing DOE headquarters in DC to provide sufficient funding. We are pleased that NMED is focusing on the Consent Order again and not backing away from assessing penalties. We have a long way to go and we must all remain vigilant as the Lab addresses each of the many cleanup sites at Los Alamos.” ~ Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Los Alamos Cleanup Budget Request Slips to 8% for FY 2016
Even as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) faces more fines from the State for missed environmental cleanup, the cleanup budget request slips to 8% of the Lab’s total budget of $2.2 billion. The request for cleanup for Fiscal Year 2016 is $185.2 million. See the full chart and Lab tables here.
Even this ridiculously small amount is under attack. The ABQ Journal reported that the Department of Energy could be planning to pay for existing LANL fines out of this cleanup budget. In December 2014 the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued fines totalling $37 million for improper waste handling that closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in SE NM.
But really, the breeched drum that closed WIPP (full operations will not resume until 2018 at the earliest) came from the nuclear weapons activities programs. It’s like the weapons program handed the environmental cleanup program a ticking time bomb and said, “You deal with it.” Then when it blows up, it gets blamed on the environment folks. Reckless historic environmental practices by the nuclear weapons programs at the Lab have left a legacy of radioactive and hazardous wastes in the ground above our aquifer.
The official estimate for the total cleanup at Los Alamos has yet to be released. But it could easily $15 – 20 billion to remove the contamination threatening our future. Doing the math, a $15 billion cleanup estimate at $200 million per year would take 75 years. That is too long.
Ask your Congressional Representatives to fully fund cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory and to NOT use cleanup funds to pay any 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.”
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 –
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.
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.
Panel 6 must be sealed off to protect mine workers from releases.
There are 50+ suspect drums in Panel 7 where the original release happen.
Parts of Panel 7 must be sealed off to protect workers.
A new exhaust shaft is in the planning stages.
The mine should be decontaminated.
Funding for the recovery work will be needed.
Fines will probably have to be paid.
If the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit with the State is changed substantially, public comments and possible hearings will be required.
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 Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release
On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) DC Office of Independent Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the operating contractor for DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, of its intent to conduct an investigation. The investigation will look into potential nuclear safety, worker safety, and health programmatic deficiencies associated with the two events in February.
WIPP has been shut down since February 5, 2014, when a salt-hauling truck caught fire, forcing evacuation of 86 workers from underground, 13 of whom were treated for smoke inhalation. Nine days later, an air monitor detected radiation underground where waste had recently been emplaced. The emergency filtration started, but radioactive particles were released to the environment. That resulted in contamination of all 13 people working above ground.
The DOE headquarters’ investigation may be a good start (hopefully), but Nuclear Watch NM, and many other groups, wants a truly independent, public investigation. This investigation should determine the cause of the WIPP radiation release, the extent of underground and surface contamination, the medical and compensation requirements for contaminated workers, and options for cleaning up underground and surface contamination.
In the meantime, TRU must be stored safely and securely at other DOE sites, regardless of how long WIPP is closed. Unnecessary waste shipments should not occur while WIPP is closed. Additional newly-generated TRU waste from nuclear weapons production, which exacerbates existing problems, should not be produced.
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.
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.
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.
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
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.
I found what I think is an interesting quote concerning the new KCP in NNSA’s FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (which is the plan that NNSA showboats to Congress).
“Finally, because the new facility [KCP] will be leased, there will be no capital investment and NNSA will not be burdened by costs for legacy disposition should the mission ever be discontinued.” NNSA FY11 SSMP Annex D, p. 44,
This sounds to me like the federal government is walking away from any future obligation to clean up any contamination at the new Kansas City Plant. I think that interesting given how there is no real federal commitment to clean up the old plant which is badly contaminated.