LANL waste shipments suspended

Runs 5/9/14 through 5/16/14

(THEME UP AND UNDER) This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. Here is this week’s top headline:

* LANL waste shipments suspended

On May 2nd, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that some nuclear waste shipments from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) were suspended for an undetermined amount of time. The reason for the stoppage was that one or more LANL waste containers may have exploded underground and caused the February 14th radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). However, DOE continues to state that the cause of the radiation release is unknown, but that it is investigating all possible scenarios.

Neither DOE nor LANL publicly identified the specific group of containers, called a waste stream, that are included in the shipment suspension. Nor have they publicly stated how many of the suspect containers are at WIPP and WCS and how many remain at LANL.

The suspended waste stream is LA-MIN02-V.001, which is the source of 54 of the 268 contact-handled waste containers in room 7, panel 7, at WIPP, where the radiation release may have originated. Another 116 containers from that waste stream are now at WCS. The waste stream was created by plutonium operations at LANL that are continuing at Technical Area 55.

The containers hold a portion of the 3,706 cubic meters of plutonium-contaminated waste that is the subject of the January 2012 Framework Agreement between the New Mexico Environment Department and LANL. The agreement states that it is non-binding, but LANL committed to removing all of that waste from Area G by June 30th, 2014.

When WIPP was closed in early February, about 100 shipments remained at LANL to meet the June 30th date. Since those shipments could not go to WIPP, DOE agreed to pay WCS $8.8 million to receive and store those wastes for up to one year.

The Environment Department has insisted that LANL meet the June 30th date, but not the deadlines for other cleanup activities included in the Consent Order that require wide-scale cleanup by 2015. Since October 2011,the Environment Department has issued more than 95 extensions of time for LANL to submit groundwater protection and cleanup investigation reports required by the Consent Order. The Framework Agreement does not give the Environment Department any power to impose fines and penalties to LANL for missing the June 30th deadline, while NMED does have that power under the Consent Order.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "Both LANL and the Environment Department put all of their eggs in one basket by focusing on getting the waste off the Hill to WIPP instead of doing all of the work required under the Consent Order. Now, we still have waste at LANL – with more being created – but many of the important Consent Order activities have not been done."

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Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS)
P. O. Box 31147
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