· 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
· 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 –
The New Mexico legislature should hold NMED’s feet to the fire so that New Mexicans have a real environment department that protects our precious water resources and creates jobs doing so.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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!
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).
Transuranic elements have atomic numbers greater than that of uranium, which is 92. Elements within TRU are typically man-made, such as several isotopes of plutonium and americium-241. Because of the elements’ longer half-lives, TRU is disposed of more cautiously than low level radioactive waste. At LANL it is a byproduct of weapons production and nuclear research. TRU is defined by the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act as “waste containing more than 100 nanocuries of alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes per gram of waste with half-lives greater than 20 years…”
Most TRU wastes contain plutonium, which is a radioactive element. Plutonium is usually measured in terms of its radioactivity (curies or becquerels). Both the curie (Ci) and the becquerel (Bq) ndicate how much a radioactive material decays every second. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,100 years. Plutonium-239 and plutonium-238 are alpha particle emitters. Plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 are produced in nuclear power plants when uranium-238 captures neutrons. Plutonium is used to produce plutonium pits, which are the primary triggers of nuclear weapons.
If plutonium is inhaled, some of it may get trapped in the lungs. Some of the trapped plutonium may move to other parts of the body, mainly bones and liver. The amount of plutonium that stays in the lungs depends on the solubility of the plutonium that is in the air. If plutonium were inhaled today, much of the plutonium would still be in the body 30 to 50 years later. The types of cancers most likely to develop are cancers of the lung, bones, and liver.
TRU Waste Removal at Los Alamos
The Board has expressed concern with the 57 possibly dangerous drums, similar to the one that shut down WIPP, that are awaiting re-packaging at LANL. These 57 drums now stored aboveground in Area G equal 13.8 cubic meters (m3) of TRU and are part of the last of the 3706 Campaign. In January 2012, DOE/LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced the Framework Agreement, which is a non-binding agreement that outlined commitments to prioritize the disposition of 3,706 cubic meters of TRU waste from LANL to WIPP by June 2014. To date, approximately 383 m3 of the Campaign remain unshipped.
In December 2012, DOE/LANL provided a schedule for disposition of some of the below-ground TRU waste requiring retrieval at Area G. DOE/LANL committed to disposition of six below-ground categories of TRU wastes no later than September 30, 2018. These six categories were identified as (1) Pit 9; (2) Trenches A-D; (3) Corrugated Metal Pipes; (4) Hot Cell Liners; (5) Tritium Packages; and (6) the 17th Remote-Handled Canister. DOE/LANL agreed to meet milestones to disposition 250 m3 by September 30, 2015; 1,000 m3 by September 30, 2016; 1,750 m3 by September 30, 2017; and 2,395 m3 by September 30, 2018. This total of 5,395 m3 remains in the ground awaiting retrieval and disposition.
There is a seventh below-ground category, called the 33 Shafts, for which DOE agreed to complete: (1) a determination as to whether this category contains TRU waste that requires retrieval and removal; and (2) and opportunity for formal public comment under the National Environmental Policy Act regarding retrieval by no later than September 30, 2015. This is yet to be completed.
The 41,000 Cubic Meter TRU Elephant in the Room
Area G opened in 1957. On a volume basis, most of the waste has been placed in unlined pits. Before the mid-1990s, the waste was typically packaged in drums, plastic bags, and cardboard boxes that were then placed into the pits in lifts. Each layer of waste was covered with crushed tuff and compacted using heavy equipment to effectively fill void spaces within the waste and provided an even, consolidated surface for the disposal of more waste. This waste is in addition to the below-ground TRU waste mentioned previously. The pits and shafts at Area G range in depth from 20 to 65 feet.
The LANL- created 2011 Corrective Measures Evaluation (Rev 3) gives estimates on the waste buried at at Area G, for which current plans call to leave in the ground forever –
· Total excavated volume – 1,654,535 yd3 (1,264,982 m3)
· Total waste volume in pits and shafts – 902,815 yd3 (690,251 m3)
Many soil samples collected around the perimeter of Area G contain detectable amounts of americium-241, plutonium-238, and plutonium-239/240. The highest levels were detected in soil samples primarily located on the perimeter of the eastern side of Area G near the Transuranic Waste Inspection Project domes.
LANL recommends only constructing an evapotranspiration (ET) cover over the pits and shafts to provide a barrier to waste and contaminated soils. The ET cover would provide a medium to hold infiltrated water until it is removed by evaporation from the surface and transpiration through vegetation. The alternative also includes constructing and operating a soil-vapor extraction (SVE) system to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in an attempt to prevent the downward migration of these VOCs to the groundwater.
Area G is located above the “sole source” (a legal term designating that extra protection is merited) regional aquifer that provides drinking water for Espanola, Santa Fe, and Los Alamos. The waste site sits in an active seismic zone between the Rio Grande Rift and the dormant Jemez supervolcano.
The Amazing Disappearing Trick
Federal regulations require that disposal systems for spent nuclear fuel or high-level or transuranic radioactive wastes are designed to provide a reasonable expectation, based upon performance assessments, that the cumulative releases of radionuclides to the accessible environment for 10,000 years after disposal from all significant processes and events that may affect the disposal system shall not exceed certain levels. (40 CFR §191.13 Containment Requirements)
However, most of the estimated TRU waste in Area G was disposed of before 1970. DOE guidance states that TRU regulations do not apply to disposal that occurred prior to promulgation of the regulations. The 1985 version of the regulations states that the standards do not apply to waste disposed prior to the effective date of the rule. This excludes from the regulations waste that is colloquially known as “pre-1970 TRU waste”, “suspect buried transuranic waste”, and possibly by other names, if the waste is left in place. If the waste is exhumed, the waste becomes subject to the currently applicable regulations. (DOE G 435.1 Chapter III – Transuranic Waste Requirements)
With little public notice, DOE officially approved Area G as a Low Level Radioactive Waste (LLW) disposal facility in 2010, after 100’s of thousands of cubic meters of LLW had already been disposed. But to dispose of LLW at Area G, DOE Order 435.1 required the Laboratory to have an approved performance assessment (PA)/composite analysis (CA). DOE claimed that the Area G PA demonstrated that a reasonable expectation existed that the potential releases from the facility will not exceed performance objectives established in DOE Order 435.1 during a 1000-yr period after closure. The Area G CA only accounted for all other sources of radioactive material that were planned to remain on-site at the Laboratory that may interact with the LLW disposal facility and contribute to the dose projected to a member of the public from Area G. (LANL Environmental Report 2013 2-11) The TRU in Area G was assessed in the composite analysis only to investigate its effects on the LLW, and was not assessed as waste in its own right.
Request for 10,000-year Assessment for Area G
The TRU waste (limited up to a total of 176,000 m3) buried 2100 feet underground in WIPP has a Performance Assessment of 10,000 years. The estimated 41,675 m3 of TRU buried 65 feet, or less, underground in Area G at LANL has a Performance Assessment of 1,000 years.
If DOE’s remediation goals are to genuinely protect public health and the environment from long-term risks, then DOE must excavate the TRU wastes in Area G for disposal at WIPP. In any event, DOE should perform a 10,000-year (not 1,000) performance assessment on ALL TRU wastes buried at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, including pre-1970 TRU wastes.
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
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.
“Flynn said Wednesday, “These are nothing more than baseless claims being peddled by a radical group that insists on wasting everybody’s time with empty threats and manufactured disputes, which helps them grab headlines and juices their fundraising efforts.””
The main point in Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to sue is based on the calendar. In particular, the mandatory final compliance report that was to be submitted under the 2005 Consent Order Compliance Schedule was to be submitted by December 6, 2015.
The report was not submitted by December 6, 2015.
It is now January 25, 2016, which is after December 6, 2015.
The final report is late – see calendar.
The federal law that was incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order, and the Consent Order itself, specify certain actions that must be taken when a deliverable does not meet its due date. For instance, DOE/LANL must request an extension. In the case of extending this final scheduled compliance deadline, there are “Class 3” permit modification requirements, like the opportunity for a public hearing, that are required.
Interestingly, because NukeWatch believes that the ball is DOE/LANL’s court to request an extension of time for the December 6, 2015 report, NMED is not named in our notice of intent to sue.