Call to action! Comments Against WIPP Expansion Needed By April 3rd

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 –

http://www.wipp.energy.gov/rcra-com-menu.asp

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

http://www.wipp.energy.gov/rcradox/rfc/18-0308_Redacted_enclosure.pdf

 

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

Fax: 505-476-6030

E-mail: ricardo.maestas@state.nm.us

New Radiation Symbol

Watchdogs Assail Revolving Door Between New Mexico Environment Department and Polluters

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.

[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

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, contactus@cardnm.org, 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!

 

Thank you.

 

_______________________________________

Name

 

___________________________________________________________NM________________

Address                                                                        City                                   State                        Zip

 

 

WIPP site map

 

 

 

 

Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads: Treat All Los Alamos Lab Radioactive Wastes Consistently

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).

 

The Problem

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) indicate 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)

· Total TRU – 54,536 yd3 (41,675 m3)

· Total Mixed Low Level Radioactive Waste – 844,388 yd3 (645,580 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.

 

Radioactive waste disposal practices at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads – New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All

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.

 

DOE Cold War Sites Closure Dates map
Current Estimated Dates for Final Cleanup of Cold War Nuclear Weapons Sites

 

 

 

 

Federal Nuclear Safety Oversight at LANL Remains Drastically Understaffed

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.

 

 

Governor Udall?

Governor Udall?

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

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

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 2005We 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.” 

LANS lost award term in 2013.

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.

That’s four.

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 onlineWe 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 inWe 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.

NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in LANL Cleanup Negotiations

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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Read much more background.

Nuclear Watch’s letter to Secretary Flynn – on Consent Order public participation requirements.

The existing Consent Order governing cleanup at LANL 

 

Area G at LANL