Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has given itself a Categorical Exclusion (CX) under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the removal, relocation, and examination of transuranic (TRU) waste drums at Waste Control Specialists (WCS). These drums are similar to the ones that forced WIPP to close in 2014. LANL officials decided that formal environmental assessments, with public input, of the movement of the possibly exploding waste drums are not needed.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located outside Carlsbad, NM. is the nation’s only geologic repository for defense-generated transuranic waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) is accepting comments on its 2019-2024 “Strategic Plan”, which should be focused on closing WIPP. But the Plan focuses on extending WIPP’s lifetime to 2050 and beyond. WIPP’s disposal phase was extended until 2024 (in 2010), and the last expected year of final closure of the WIPP facility (i.e., date of final closure certification) was to be 2034. There was always a 10-year period for final closure after the disposal operations ceased.
But, instead, the WIPP Strategic Plan is stocked full of new projects that will extend WIPP’s life another 25 years at least. Yet, WIPP officials don’t mention how or when they plan to modify the State Permit with the new proposed date. DOE’s own waste-handling inefficiencies and mistakes have caused this delay that the people of New Mexico are now paying for by having WIPP open longer than planned. We are asking everyone to oppose DOE’s “WIPP Forever” plans by sending in comments. See below.
DOE Moves Forward With Unneeded New Shaft at WIPP
Originally billed as a replacement exhaust shaft to help WIPP recover from the 2014 exploding drum event that shut down WIPP for three years, a proposed new shaft is now designed to increase WIPP’s capacity. WIPP officials have repeatedly stated that after a new filter building is complete, WIPP will have returned to its pre-2014 capacity without the new shaft. The $75 million new fifth shaft would increase the mining and waste handling capacity by 25% at any given time.
One would think that increasing the annual ability to emplace waste at WIPP would help keep the repository on track to stop receiving waste by its original date of 2024. But along with the annual increased mining and disposal capacity, DOE has also released a Strategic Plan to extend WIPP’s waste disposal deadline to 2052.
19 seconds – the amount of time airborne radiological contamination could be released before the safety dampers close. This assumes that all other components work perfectly.
A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) explains the DNFSB’s calculations on the proposed new (estimated at nearly $300 million) safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS).
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.
NukeWatch Joins Suit To Stop WIPP Expansion
On January 17, 2019, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) and Nuclear Watch New Mexico (NWNM) filed an appeal in the New Mexico Court of Appeals to overturn the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) approval of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Disposal Volume permit modification, which was issued on December 21, 2018.
The modification would allow expansion of WIPP’s capacity by approximately 30 percent and was issued over the repeated opposition of many New Mexico organizations.
Call to action!
Comments on WIPP Expansion Needed By April 3rd
Informational Meeting Is March 8th
New Mexico is under growing nuclear attack.
· Plutonium pit production increases are planned for Los Alamos.
· There are serious plans for all of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel to head to NM.
· WIPP has a major expansion in the works to allow even more radioactive waste into NM.
Today we ask you to join with others to stop a proposed major Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) expansion. Officials at the WIPP are proceeding with a deluge of permit modifications to try to get as much weakening of the Hazardous Waste Permit as they can before 2019.
Because DOE is so far behind emplacing waste at WIPP, including because of the three-year shutdown from the 2014 radiation release, and they are running out of underground space, they want to change the way waste volume is measured. Since the 1970s, DOE has agreed that the amount of waste is the volume of the outer-most container. Now, DOE wants to estimate the amount of waste inside each container and use that lesser amount.
By April 3, we need You to submit written comments opposing DOE’s request. If possible, you can find out more at a public meeting (which isn’t for public comments):
“Clarification” of TRU Mixed Waste Disposal Volume Reporting
Thursday, March 8, 2018 3 – 5 p.m.
Courtyard by Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico
DOE’s request is at: http://wipp.energy.gov/rcradox/rfc/Volume_of_Record.pdf
What to expect at this March 8 meeting:
· Interested people, including NM Environment Department officials, gathered to discuss this issue in one of the smaller conference rooms
· Optional sign-in sheet, and DOE handouts of their presentation
· A presentation of the proposed plan by DOE
· Question and answer period – Make sure you get all your questions answered
· No opportunity for formal public comments
WIPP is now filling Panel 7 (of 10 originally proposed), which is about 70% of the space. But WIPP has only emplaced ~92,700 m3 of waste (about 53% of the 175,564 m3 allowed). DOE has “lost” more than 30,000 m3 of space by its inefficiency and contractor incompetence. Measuring the waste the proposed new way decreases the ‘amount of waste’ emplaced to date by ~26,000 m3.
The proposed modification is controversial and is part of a larger plan to expand WIPP, but is submitted as a Class 2 Permit Modification Request (PMR), which has lesser public input opportunities. The public has opposed WIPP expansion for years and decades. There is significant public concern and interest in the WIPP facility. This PMR should be a Class 3, which includes much more public input, a formal public hearing — a process that could take up to a year.
We will provide sample comments by April 3rd, but your comments are just as important.
The complete Permit Modification Request is here –
Class 2 Permit Modification Request Clarification of TRU Mixed Waste Disposal Volume Reporting Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Permit, Number NM4890139088-TSDF dated January 31, 2018
By April 3, please mail or fax or e-mail comments to:
Mr. Ricardo Maestas
New Mexico Environment Department
2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Nuclear Watch NM Press Release
For immediate release: January 17, 2017
Contact: Jay Coghlan, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org
Watchdogs Assail Revolving Door
Between New Mexico Environment Department and Polluters;
Gov. Martinez Fails to Protect State Budget and Environment
Santa Fe, NM – As the annual state legislative session begins, New Mexico is faced with a ~$70 million budget deficit, which must be balanced as per the state’s constitution, while revenues are projected to continue falling. To remedy this, Gov. Martinez plans to divert $120 million from public school reserves, take ~$12.5 million out of state employee retirement accounts, make teachers and state workers pay more into their retirement accounts (they are already among the lowest paid in the country), and extend 5.5% cuts for most state agencies while cutting yet more from the legislature and higher education. Instead, the state’s budget deficit could have been prevented had the New Mexico Environment Department aggressively fined polluters. But unfortunately there is a strong revolving door between NMED and the polluters it is suppose to regulate.
In her 2012 State of the State speech Gov. Martinez said, “My appointees are barred from lobbying state government for 2 years after serving in my administration.” Yet in August 2016 the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Mr. Ryan Flynn, resigned to become the Executive Director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, whose main purpose is to lobby on behalf of the oil and gas industry against environmental regulations. Before joining NMED, Mr. Flynn worked for a law firm that advertises that “Our representation of oil and gas producers, mid-stream entities, and natural gas pipelines has been a mainstay of Modrall Sperling’s natural resources practice since the early days of the firm.” Modrall Sperling lawyers were very active in the NM Oil and Gas Association’s opposition to the so-called “pit rule” that sought to prevent oil and gas drilling mud waste from leaching into and contaminating groundwater. In June 2013 the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission, appointed by Gov. Martinez, eviscerated the pit rule.
Similarly, Martinez and Flynn promulgated new groundwater protection rules that for the first time in the country actually allows groundwater contamination if it doesn’t migrate past the footprint of the operating site. This is the so-called Copper Rule, drafted by the copper mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (which is also a Modrell Sperling law firm client).
On January 13, 2017 Kathryn Roberts, the head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division, announced that she was leaving the Environment Department to accept an unnamed job in Alamogordo. Before NMED she worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for four years as Group Leader for Regulatory Support and Performance (of “cleanup”). Upon information and belief, she will work as a public communications specialist for Longenecker and Associates, a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor that proposes to drill deep boreholes to test the disposal of high-level nuclear waste near Alamogordo.
This is part of the continuing targeting of New Mexico as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Longenecker and Associates have participated in Sandia Labs studies of deep borehole high-level waste disposal. Of interest are some relatively recent new hires by Longenecker, including Don Cook, a longtime Sandia Labs scientist, past manager of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom, and most recently the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs (i.e., nuclear weapons) at the National Nuclear Security Administration. As such, he was essentially the head of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs.
Also new to Longenecker and Associates as Corporate Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer is Christine Gelles, former interim manager of the new DOE Environmental Management field office at Los Alamos. A Longenecker resume´ notes that Gelles “Led planning and initial regulatory interactions with New Mexico Environment Department negotiation of Los Alamos Consent Order.” Ms. Roberts would have been one of Gelles’ counterparts on the other side of the table as head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division.
An original 2005 Consent Order negotiated between NMED and DOE was meant to compel comprehensive cleanup at LANL and force the Energy Department to increase cleanup funding. The new Consent Order, likely negotiated at least in part between Gelles and Roberts, contains giant loopholes whereby DOE can get out of cleanup by simply claiming that is too difficult or too costly. In fact, since the new Consent Order went into effect in June 2016, DOE has announced that the cost of “Remaining Legacy Cleanup” of radioactive and toxic wastes from more than 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production at LANL will cost $2.9 to $3.8 billion through fiscal year 2035, averaging $153 million per year, which is ridiculously low. That cost estimate clearly assumes that the Lab’s major radioactive and toxic wastes dumps will not be cleaned up. Instead they will be “capped and covered,” leaving some 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G, its largest waste dump, posing a permanent threat to groundwater. DOE’s cost estimate for future LANL cleanup assumes flat funding out to FY 2035, and notes how that cost is “Aligned to [the] 2016 Consent Order.” This is a distinct and very unfortunate break from the 2005 Consent Order.
Particularly galling is the fact that under Gov. Martinez and ex-Secretary Ryan Flynn the New Mexico Environment Department granted more than 150 milestone extensions to the 2005 Consent Order, and then turned around and said that the Consent Order wasn’t working. From a budget perspective, New Mexico could have collected more than $300 million in stipulated penalties, more than four times the state’s projected budget deficit, had NMED vigorously enforced the 2005 Consent Order.
[For more, see here]
All of this is part of a pattern where the Martinez Administration has coddled the nuclear weapons industry even as that industry is cutting cleanup funding and ramping up nuclear weapons production that caused the mess to begin with. Gov. Martinez and ex-NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn have touted what they call an historic $74 million settlement that New Mexico and DOE reached after a radioactive waste barrel that LANL improperly treated ruptured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing down that multi-billion dollar facility for nearly three years. What was left unsaid is that DOE was already responsible for the supermajority of “Special Environmental Projects” that were agreed to in lieu of penalties and fines that could helped solved New Mexico’s budgets woes, even though state and federal policy on those projects both require that the regulatory agency collect a significant monetary penalty.
Not one penny went to New Mexico, while DOE was “obliged” to, for example, repave roads at WIPP and LANL that it uses to transport the radioactive bomb waste that it produces. To add insult to injury, NMED agreed to waive penalties for all future, unknown violations – no matter the severity or length – as long as there is corrective action of any sort at some undefined time. Also included in this give-away was an obligation by NMED to negotiate modifications to the 2005 Consent Order (now completed to New Mexico’s disadvantage), and to forego penalties that could have been assessed against DOE under it.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “It seems that the Environment Department under Gov. Martinez is in the business of protecting business against environmentalists. The legislature should hold their feet to the fire so that New Mexicans have a real environment department that protects our precious water resources and creates jobs doing so.”
# # #
STAND AGAINST THE RUSH TO RE-OPEN AN UNSAFE WIPP
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that it intends to re-open the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in December 2016. The nation’s only deep geologic repository, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, has been shut down since February 2014 because of two events – an underground fire and a radiation release.
DOE is in a rush to re-open WIPP even though the facility cannot meet the previous operational and safety standards, let alone more stringent requirements that are necessary to prevent future accidents. The WIPP underground remains contaminated, so operations have to be greatly changed, including workers being dressed in “ebola suits.” Ventilation will not be restored to the pre-2014 levels until 2021 or later – the new system is not designed and how much it will cost is unknown.
The transuranic (plutonium-contaminated) waste from manufacturing nuclear bombs can be in safe storage at the generator sites, so there is no emergency requiring the rush to re-open.
DOE is rushing to re-open WIPP and ALSO wants to expand WIPP to other missions that are prohibited by law, including:
- Greater-Than-Class C waste from dozens of commercial power plants;
- High-level waste from Hanford, WA;
- Commercial waste from West Valley, NY;
- Surplus weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site, SC.
DOE also is proceeding with finding a “volunteer” site for the nation’s high-level defense waste, and some officials in southeastern New Mexico say publicly that WIPP should be that repository!
The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act explicitly PROHIBITS all high-level waste, all spent nuclear fuel, and all commercial waste. But DOE wants to ignore the law!
Those prohibitions resulted from many New Mexicans demanding them!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Contact Senators Udall and Heinrich (and other elected officials) and ask them to stop the rush to re-open an unsafe WIPP. Ask them to require DOE to drop the expansion proposals and commit that WIPP will not be considered for high-level waste. Ask them to have Congress reiterate that the WIPP law is not being changed to allow those expansions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Southwest Research and Information Center, www.sric.org, 505-262-1862
Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, email@example.com, 505-242-5511
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, www.nuclearactive.org, 505-986-1973
Nuclear Watch New Mexico, www.nukewatch.org, 505-989-7342
Here is a sample letter to use as-is or to modify. You can use the electronic message system at the Senators’ offices.
Senator Udall’s electronic message system: https://www.tomudall.senate.gov/?p=contact
Senator Heinrich’s electronic message system: https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/contact/write-martin
Senator Tom Udall Senator Martin Heinrich
531 Hart Senate Office Building 303 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich:
I am very concerned about the Department of Energy (DOE) rushing to re-open WIPP this year despite unresolved public and worker safety issues and because of the many proposals to expand WIPP, if it is re-opened.
The WIPP underground remains contaminated, so operations have to be greatly changed, including workers being dressed in “ebola suits.” Ventilation will not be restored to the pre-2014 levels until 2021 or later – the new system is not designed and how much it will cost is unknown.
The transuranic (plutonium-contaminated) waste from manufacturing nuclear bombs can be in safe storage at generator sites, so there’s no emergency requiring the rush to re-open.
DOE recently announced that it wants to expand WIPP for commercial Greater-than-Class C (GTCC) waste from nuclear reactors and for tons of weapons-grade plutonium. DOE also wants to have a defense high-level waste repository and some people want to “volunteer” WIPP!
There is time for my requests to be fulfilled. Please:
* Tell DOE to improve the ventilation and other safety requirements before WIPP re-opens
* Insist that DOE drop the expansion proposals
* Require DOE to affirm that WIPP will not be considered for the defense high-level waste repository
* Obtain additional congressional assurances that the WIPP law is not going to be changed to allow the proposed expansions.
WIPP is a public health and safety issue now and for many generations to come!
Address City State Zip
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads:
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).
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Following protracted negotiations, threatened litigation, and claims of imminent and substantial endangerment, the New Mexican Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) contractor agreed to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. Its promise was fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy waste at Los Alamos. The 2005 Consent Order was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan, with investigations followed by cleanup and with hundreds of specific milestones. The intent was to convince DOE to increase funding for LANL cleanup by making a complete cleanup schedule subject to enforcement. The original CO had a “final compliance date” scheduled for December 6, 2015.
However, in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, “transuranic” (TRU) nuclear bomb production wastes from LANL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico. This put Consent Order cleanup on the back burner. Approximately 150 milestone extensions of the 2005 CO were granted to LANL by NMED. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down by improper packaging at LANL of a drum of this waste. Dealing with the remaining “suspect” drums (packaged at the same time) at LANL is a major priority lately instead of cleanup. This has kept the Consent Order cleanup on the back burner.
- Just change the schedule
So NMED and LANL could pick a new final cleanup date, say 2030, and work backwards. Or start by adding 4 or 5 years to the old schedule for some reports and work it out from there. The point is to keep the original 2005 Consent Order language, which is very protective of the health and environment of Northern New Mexico, and just change the schedule dates. However the work is rescheduled, all the work items in the old Compliance Schedule Tables need to be addressed in new Compliance Schedule Tables with new dates given for all the work.
Recent public presentations by NMED implied that cleanup milestones in a revised CO would be assigned annually based on the anticipated budget. This would leave hundreds of cleanup items with no target date for completion and would leave cleanup at the mercy of Congressional budget winds. Any cleanup item not on the list for any given year could be outside the scope of enforcement. LANL could be in the position to not put items on the annual list and to delay cleanup forever.
If the schedule must be rearranged into some sort of “Campaign Mode” in an attempt to make cleanup more “efficient”, completion dates must be kept for every step. Every item in the Campaign must remain enforceable with concrete milestones including a final compliance date. All other items not in a Campaign must remain scheduled.
- Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Taking cleanup dollar crumbs and sprinkling them annually over some perceived priority cleanup items is the least efficient way to address the fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War wastes at Los Alamos. Cleanup of the 70 years worth of contamination will never again be cheaper than it is this year. It is imperative that ambitious schedule be made and that it be kept.
Every day of delay means another day of Cold War radioactive and hazardous wastes leaking into the environment of Northern New Mexico.
- Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn stated publicly (starting at 8:00 min) that the need for a final cleanup date at Los Alamos is critical to Congress for funding. He presented a map that showed that Los Alamos National Laboratory was the only DOE weapons site without final cleanup date. (Slide 4) Instead, cleanup at LANL is listed as “TBD” (To Be Determined).
The final compliance date for the last work item must keep the Class 3 permit modification language. Please see our earlier blog for more information. This will ensure that the public can be heard at the end of the next CO and requires the opportunity for a public hearing.
There must be meaningful public input for the revised CO. NMED must give response to all comments.
A well-planned schedule with concrete milestones and final compliance dates would get the work done faster and cheaper. Course corrections with schedule adjustments will have to be made along the way. This would be expected for such a complex task. Having to adjust the schedule is no reason to throw it out. Any major rewrite of the 2005 Consent Order may only leave the future of NM less protected.
Not keeping up with changes in the 2005 Consent Order schedule is the main reason that the CO needs to be revised today. We currently find ourselves with cleanup of legacy wastes in such disarray that it seems that the only fix is to start over. But there is no reason not to just update the original 2005 schedule. Secretary Flynn has stated that the 2005 Consent Order is still in effect.
Today we could be looking at a known Consent Order with a new schedule. Instead we may end up with NMED and DOE renegotiating some untried document with unknown benefits and an unknown schedule.
Cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory is too important to leave as TBD.
Federal Nuclear Safety Oversight at LANL Remains Drastically Understaffed
A recently released report, Office of Enterprise Assessments Targeted Review of Work Planning and Control and Biological Safety at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), December 2015, explains nuclear safety oversight staffing shortages.
The Office of Enterprise Assessments (EA) is the Department of Energy’s (DOE) organization responsible for assessments of nuclear and industrial safety, and cyber and physical security. DOE has regulatory authority over the radiologic facilities, operations, and wastes of the nuclear weapons complex. (Whereas the State of New Mexico has regulatory authority over non-radiological, hazardous operations and wastes.)
LANL is managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC with oversight by DOE’s Los Alamos Field Office (NA-LA). On a good day, NA-LA, with around 100 total on staff, would have their hands full providing oversight for LANS’ 13,000 employees and contractors scattered over nearly 40 square miles.
Lack of Safety Oversight Staff, with No Help in Sight
But the recent report (which was investigated in June and July, 2015) explains that NA-LA has funding for only 6 out of the 12 (at the least) required Facility Representative (FR) positions. An FR is defined as an individual assigned responsibility by the local field office for monitoring the safe and efficient performance of a facility and its operations. This individual is the primary point of contact with the contractor for operational and safety oversight.
DOE has a process to determine adequate Facility Representative staffing. The NA-LA FR staffing analysis for 2015 indicated that 17 FRs are needed to cover 13 Hazard Category 2 nuclear facilities, 4 Hazard Category 3 nuclear facilities, 11 High Hazard facilities, 12 moderate hazard facilities, and 7 low hazard facilities. NA-LA figured that only 12 FRs were needed and that 10 were on board. However the current NA-LA organization chart shows 7 FRs, one of whom has been on detail as the acting chief of staff for over a year and has not maintained his FR qualifications. There are no current plans to fill the vacancies. Due to staffing shortages, FR oversight is limited to the nuclear facilities. The bottom line is that the current NA-LA staffing level is 6 FRs fewer than the requirement of 12 stated in the Work Force Analysis and Staffing Plan Report. (Pg. 25)
This staff shortage is exacerbated by the fact that NA-LA has not approved LANS’ contractor assurance system (CAS), which is required by DOE orders. DOE’s version of Contractor Assurance is a contractor-designed and utilized system to manage performance consistent with contract requirements. The system provides transparency between the contractor and DOE to accomplish mission needs, and for DOE to determine the necessary level of Federal oversight.
A rigorous and credible assessment program is the cornerstone of effective, efficient management of programs such as environment, safety, and health; safeguards and security; cyber security; and emergency management.
The NA-LA oversight processes include an evaluation of the CAS primarily through staff assessments. Also, NA-LA annually approves the annual performance evaluation plan, which is an element of the CAS system.
It is NA-LA’s oversight of the 2015 Performance Evaluation Report (which has not yet been publically released) that lead to DOE ending LANS’ contract at LANL in 2017. We give a tip of the hat to NA-LA for being so diligent about poor LANL performance while being so short-handed. It makes me wonder what other problems may be as yet undiscovered. Would the LANL waste drum packing mistake, which shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), have been caught if NA-LA was fully staffed? The estimated cost of reopening WIPP is $.5 billion and climbing.
It is irresponsible for DOE not to provide its Los Alamos Field Office with its required staffing and resources. The lack of oversight is not only dangerous. It can be expensive.
NukeWatch insists that Federal safety oversight of DOE nuclear and hazardous activities be the first priority. Fully staffed oversight is essential for worker and public safety. This will be especially important as the new contractor takes over operations of LANL in 2017.
Taxpayers con not afford to have any less in place.
Michael Coleman had an interesting article for the Albuquerque Journal – Does New Mexico’s future lie in D.C.?
Coleman relates a conversation with NM Senator Tom Udall that made it clear the Senator isn’t ruling a gubernatorial run out.
It’s not surprising to think that Udall – who has been in Washington as a congressman and U.S. senator since 1998 – might want to come home to beautiful Santa Fe and take up residence in the governor’s mansion as a coda to his long political career.
Just two years into his second six-year term in the Senate, Udall could run for governor without giving up his Senate seat, which doesn’t expire until 2020. If he won the 2018 governor’s race, he would appoint his Senate replacement. That kind of power is alluring to any politician.
But as Coleman says, “it’s all just a parlor game at this point.”
Despite Uncertainty of When/If WIPP Will Reopen,
DOE Hatches Plan to Send More Waste
In a recent Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board Editorial: Another WIPP delay spells more tax dollars wasted, we are reminded of the delays affecting the reopening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which has not been disposing radioactive waste since February 2014 when an improperly packed drum from Los Alamos exploded.
Almost two years later, the WIPP contractor struggles to figure out how to clean and reopen the underground repository. Serious concerns revolve around the ventilation system, which not cannot supply the required amount of air now because it must be operated in filter mode ever since WIPP was contaminated.
As the Journal editorial explains,
So while the delays pile up, so do cleanup and reopening costs, which may exceed $500 million.
With bumbling progress like this, it remains to be seen if WIPP will ever reopen.
Yet surprisingly, DOE just released a plan to send MORE waste to WIPP.
A Federal Register notice announces the DOE selection of a Preferred Alternative to prepare 6 metric tons (MT) of surplus non-pit plutonium for eventual disposal at WIPP.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), issued to the public in May 2015, DOE describes the potential environmental impact from alternatives for safe and timely disposition of 13.1 metric tons (14.4 tons) of surplus plutonium for which a disposition pathway is not yet assigned. When the Final EIS was issued, DOE had no Preferred Alternative for the disposition of the 6 metric tons (6.6 tons) of surplus non-pit plutonium.
The Federal Register Notice for DOE/NNSA’s Preferred Alternative for Disposition of Surplus Non-pit Plutonium for the Final Surplus Plutonium Supplemental EIS is expected to be published in the Federal Register by Thursday, December 24, 2015. The Final SPD Supplemental EIS and related information, including the Federal Register notice will also be available on the SPD Supplemental EIS website, and the DOE National Environmental Policy Act website.
Since WIPP doesn’t have capacity (even if it re-opens) for this additional waste, putting it into WIPP would, among other things, displace waste from other site(s) – Idaho, Hanford, Los Alamos, or Oak Ridge.
The Record of Decision will not be released for at least 30 days. Comments are not requested, but can be made, regarding the notice.
Our friends at Southwest Research and Information Center will be making additional comments about this proposed expansion of WIPP.
The WIPP contractor has much to do before the repository can safely reopen. The task may be unachievable. But in the meantime, expanding WIPP’s mission can only make reopening WIPP more schedule driven instead of safety driven.
If DOE wants to make useful plans, how about plans for WIPP’s replacement?
Four Strikes and You’re Out
In stunning news on December 18, Justin Horwath of the SF New Mexican reported that the management and operating contractor of Los Alamos National Laboratory will not have its contract renewed after it ends Sept. 30, 2017. This is stunning because LANS LLC, the M&O contractor, could have potentially run the Lab until for 20 years until 2026, had it not had so many problems.
The annual contract for FY 2016 was over $2.2 billion. This means that Los Alamos National Security (LANS) left upwards of $20 billion (9 years of lost contract) on the table. It’s not often that a company gets the opportunity to make mistakes that costs them $20 billion worth of contracts.
The management of the Lab was privatized when LANS was awarded the contract in 2005. LANS is a partnership between the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Babcock & Wilcox Co., and AECOM (formerly URS). Before 2005 the University of California exclusively managed LANL as a non-profit. The for-profit experiment for managing the Lab will hopefully be reconsidered.
As a reminder, Nuclear Watch NM, along with our friends at Tri-Valley CARES, submitted a bid to manage the Lab back in 2005. We thought the management should be non-profit and that nuclear weapons research should be phased out.
The overall direction of future missions at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – We propose to downgrade the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs and subordinate them under a new Associate Directorship of Nuclear Nonproliferation so that it can be better assured that national and international obligations under the NonProliferation Treaty are met.
LANS lost the M&O contract because they failed to earn the “award term” 4 times. The award term is simply another year added to the contract. Section H-13(f) of the current contract states, ‘If the Contractor fails 4 times to earn award term, the operation of this Award Term clause will cease.”
Then, LANS lost award term in 2014 AND had one extra award term that was previously earned taken away because of improperly packing the radioactive waste drum that shut down WIPP.
And LANS lost this award term for 2015. LANL may be negotiating this, but they got a waiver in 2012 that granted them an award term when they didn’t actually earn it. They were told that was their last waiver.
These award terms are based on the Lab’s Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs), which thanks to a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by NukeWatch, are available online. We wonder if having these available to the public could have helped the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in any way to not give the award terms.
We do thank NNSA and the DOE LA Field Office for sticking to their guns by providing genuine oversight of the Lab this go-around. But the past few years serve as a reminder of the dangerous and difficult side of nuclear weapons work, the continuing health impacts to workers, and the impossibility of isolating the radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years. When will the US decide that it’s just not worth it?
The SF New Mexican also tells that NM Congressional delegation has weighed in. We agree with the joint statement issued by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján that, “DOE must hold all of its contractors accountable and be responsible stewards of federal funds.”
But we have some questions about this statement:
“Los Alamos National Laboratory employs some of the best and brightest minds in the country whose contributions are indispensable to our national security. The lab also strengthens our economy by providing quality jobs, and we will always fight to protect its mission. As DOE prepares a new contract proposal, assuring continuity for the employees at LANL and the high-quality scientific, energy, and security contributions they make to our nation will be paramount. We are confident that Los Alamos will continue to have a critical role in national and international security, research and science. We expect to receive further details and regular briefings from NNSA as the process moves forward in the new year.”
The delegation’s joint letter seems to demonstrate how overly concerned they are with LANL’s “mission” of nuclear weapons production and with the institutional benefit of profit-making national security contractors. The Lab’s actual contributions to energy research and basic science are also a small proportion to the taxpayer dollars expended there.
A major rewrite of the Lab’s missions is needed where true national security is not based on nuclear weapons.
For immediate release December 7, 2015
Contacts: Jay Coghlan, jay[at]nukewatch.org
Deadline for Last Cleanup Milestone of LANL Consent Order Passes
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in Negotiations
Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, December 6, was the deadline for the last compliance milestone in the Consent Order between the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Department of Energy (DOE) that governs cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Ironically, that last milestone required the submittal of a report by the Lab on how it successfully completed cleanup of Area G, its largest waste dump. Real comprehensive cleanup is decades away at current funding levels. One of the purposes of the 2005 Consent Order was to prod Congress to increase funding for cleanup of 70 years of neglected Cold War contamination at the Lab.
NMED has the final decision on what form cleanup of hazardous wastes takes at LANL. But any revised Consent Order is still off in the future, and the degree of public participation in its formulation yet to be determined by NMED. Meanwhile, LANL 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, 4 miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
Following protracted negotiations and threatened litigation by DOE against NMED, the Environment Department succeeded in getting DOE and the LANL contractor to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. However, beginning in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, monitored “transuranic” (TRU) wastes from nuclear bomb production at Area G to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico.
The stated rationale of this so-called 3706 Campaign was to minimize the risk from wildfire following the 2010 Las Conchas Fire that burned within 3.5 miles of Area G. However, if those TRU wastes were really at risk from wildfire, they would have burned during the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire that came within a half-mile of Area G. The Framework Agreement allowed LANL to discontinue most legacy cleanup to concentrate on TRU shipments that should have already been completed.
Moreover, the 3706 Campaign itself ended in disaster in February 2014 when an improperly treated radioactive waste drum from LANL ruptured at WIPP, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing down that multi-billion dollar facility. Dealing with the 59 similarly treated “suspect” drums still at LANL will use a substantial amount of scarce cleanup funding for at least the next two years. Combined with the need to address a large chromium groundwater plume discovered after the original Consent Order went into effect, cleanup of buried mixed radioactive wastes will remain on the back burner, if ever addressed.
Further, since 2011 LANL has requested and NMED perfunctorily granted more than 150 milestone extensions, thus effectively eviscerating the Consent Order without public comment and consent. Which brings us to today, after the last compliance milestone deadline has expired, with little cleanup actually accomplished since 2012. A new schedule of cleanup is on hold until a revised Consent Order is negotiated.
Previously NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has said that a draft revised Consent Order would be released for a 60-day public comment period before the end of 2015. But as of mid-November negotiations had not started. More recently Secretary Flynn has said that a draft renewed Consent Order would be released only after the schedule of payments is finalized for a $73 million settlement over WIPP violations. WhileNuclear Watch New Mexico appreciates NMED’s firmness on the WIPP settlements, we would like to see the same amount of zeal applied to enforcing cleanup at LANL through the Consent Order.
NukeWatch strongly believes that much more vigorous public participation steps, including the opportunity for a public hearing, are legally required by the existing Consent Order. Specifically, the March 2005 Consent Order incorporated the full public participation requirements applicable to hazardous waste permits. Federal environmental regulations, which are incorporated into New Mexico state regulations, establish the public participation procedures for various types of permit modifications, including extending final compliance dates. These are deeper levels of public participation than the 60-day public comment period that NMED is currently contemplating. In our view, a 60-day public comment period on a draft Consent Order is tantamount to commenting on a done deal already negotiated between DOE and NMED.
Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, stated, “The requirements are clear for deep and meaningful public participation in LANL cleanup decisions, including the opportunity for the interested public to have a seat at the negotiating table and the possibility for a public hearing. NMED must make Cold War legacy cleanup a priority at LANL and should start by prioritizing full public participation while negotiating the revised Consent Order.”
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, added, “Ultimately this is all about the future of cleanup at LANL, which is receiving less federal funding while the nuclear weapons programs that created the mess to begin with are getting more money. We want nothing short of comprehensive cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab. That would be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and the environment while creating hundreds of high-paying jobs.
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Please help us prepare for Thursday evening by registering today. Speaking of silent auctions, we have a great list of items that can be yours.
For instance, one of the pieces is “Daybreak” by Santa Fe artist Jamie Chase (18” x 24”, 2015)
Other items include this beautiful canvas printed photograph from “Ireland, One Island, No Borders” by Elizabeth Billups and Gerry Adams (16” X 24” 2005)
Chuck Montano will be joining us for a benefit sale of autographed copies of his recently published, “Los Alamos: A Whistleblower’s Diary,” documenting fraud and abuse at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. All sales will benefit us
This Thursday evening, August 6, is the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.
Please join Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Global Zero at the Center for Contemporary Arts for the premier of “Message from Hiroshima.” This will followed by a panel discussion of nuclear weapons issues by Valerie Plame of Global Zero, Rev. John Dear of Campaign Nonviolence, and Jay Coghlan of NukeWatch.
Tickets for the event are:
$25 for a 6:30 pm reception with the panel members, the film and panel discussion.
$15 for the film at 7:30 and panel discussion afterward.
Reservations are recommended – call CCA at (505) 982-1338.
Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, Santa Fe, NM
As we work toward a future world free of nuclear weapons, we hope you will join us to commemorate the day that changed history 70 years ago. We look forward to seeing you. If you have any questions, please contact us at 505-989-7342. Tax-deductible financial contributions to the two organizations are encouraged!
Event Sponsored by VES & HET Fund For Change
Special thanks to Santa Fe Brewery Co, Kelly’s Liquor Barn, and CCA.
WIPP Sold With a 10,000 Year Guarantee
- Jericho has been inhabited for a thousand years
- Many megafauna go extinct, including the giant ground sloths, woolly rhinoceros, cave bear, and sabre-toothed cats (Mammoths survive in small groups for another 6500 years)
- Cattle are domesticated and the plow is invented
- In what is now northern Iraq, cultivation of barley and wheat begins.
- Beer is first brewed.
- Sea levels will rise 3 to 4 meters
- 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.
Please consider commenting that:
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.
Please contact me if you have any questions.
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.
In December 2014, NMED fined DOE/LANL $37 million and DOE/WIPP $17 million for the release at WIPP. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has hinted that there may be up to $104 million in possible additional fines to DOE/LANL that also have nothing to do with consent order. But the four recent notices are all about the Consent Order.
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!
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
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
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.”
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 –
184.108.40.206. Ignitable, Corrosive, and Reactive Wastes
Wastes exhibiting the characteristic of ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity (EPA Hazardous Waste Numbers of D001, D002, or D003) are not acceptable at WIPP.
DOE stated that it had “reason to believe that the nitrate salt bearing waste in the containers described above is an oxidizer and therefore the D001 code should be applied to the respective containers”, but did not explain exactly what that reason was. What did LANL or the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) discover that lead them to apply the D001 classification? The AIB report investigating the Feb. 14 release is not due until September.
Now there are 368 illegal drums buried at WIPP. DOE can’t seal up Panel 6 until the exact cause of the Feb 14 release is known, even though there is a plan to expedite closure of Panel 6. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated on several occasions that that we must know the exact cause before sealing up Panel 6. We agree. Otherwise we might be burying drums that should be retrieved and repackaged, as onerous of a task that that would be.
DOE stated, “Because the investigations are ongoing, the application of the D001 is considered provisional and may change to include and/or remove containers/waste streams in the future.” But the WIPP permit has no provision for allowance for “provisional” classification wastes.
Either they are or they are not.
Missed WIPP Deadline May Put Real Cleanup at LANL Back On Track
Santa Fe, NM – Today the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) denied extension requests by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to delay cleanup milestones under a legally enforceable 2005 Consent Order. These denials by NMED counter a trend since January 2012 when NMED and LANL entered into a nonbinding “Framework Agreement” to ship 3706 cubic meters of above-ground transuranic waste from the Lab to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal. LANL radioactive wastes are now the main suspect in the February 14 contamination and subsequent shutdown of the multi-billion dollar WIPP.
NMED denied 14 extensions, now available in LANL’s Electronic Public Reading Room. These denials include construction of monitoring wells, and investigation reports for cleanup of contaminated areas. All of them included language that LANL requested an extension based on the Lab’s need to divert resources to remove transuranic waste in accordance with the Framework Agreement. The denials repeatedly state, “Based on the Permittees’ [LANL’s] statement that they will not be able to meet the deadlines that they committed to in the Framework Agreement [to ship TRU wastes to WIPP], the request is hereby denied.”
NMED had previously agreed to over 100 of these extension requests in favor of the so-called 3706 Campaign. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.
The Lab will miss the June 30 deadline of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under the 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy wastes. The Consent Order is enforceable with financial penalties for missed deliverables.
The Lab has claimed that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the original intent behind the Consent Order was that fines or the threat of fines would shake federal cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in Washington, DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Executive Director, commented, “After granting more than one hundred extension requests to delay cleanup, we salute the New Mexico Environment Department for denying further requests. We encourage NMED to enforce what it already has, and make LANL comply with its legally mandated cleanup order. This in turn will drive increased federal funding for genuine cleanup at the Lab, creating hundreds of jobs while permanently protecting our precious water and environment.”
Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Program Director, commented, “We look forward to continuing enforcement of the 2005 Consent Order and the necessary removal of Cold War legacy waste buried in unlined trenches above our aquifer.”
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.