LANL EM And N3B Update County Council On Legacy Waste Cleanup Contract

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EM-LA Field Office manager Doug Hintze, left, and N3B regulatory and stakeholder interface program manager Frazer Lockhart address Los Alamos County Council Tuesday evening in White Rock. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Los Alamos County Council heard from Doug Hintze, Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager and Fraser Lockhart, regulatory and stakeholder interface program manager for N3B during their workshop session in White Rock Tuesday evening.

Both men repeatedly stressed the importance of safety on the legacy cleanup contract.

“Safety is the number one property that we have and we will do no work unless we can ensure that we are doing it safely,” Hintze said.

Hintze said that from a budget perspective, the legacy cleanup is in very good shape. He said in FY2018 the budget request was for $191 million which is roughly 8 percent of the site budget and that the actual appropriation was $220 million. For FY2019, the request was for $194 million and the appropriation was $220 million. He said EM does not have any technological or facilities cleaning, that the more money they get the quicker they can do the cleanup work.

Hintze said there were two very high priorities this year, the first being the treatment of the remediated nitrate salts – the drums that caused the event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad.

“We had 60 of those drums up here and we completed treatment after four years of doing all the research, putting in all the procedures, the training qualifications. That was completed in November. We had another 27 drums that didn’t have the kitty litter in them and we remediated them by March. The drums that were above ground have been treated and we are ready to ship those off,” he said.

Hintze said EM has made its first shipment to the WIPP facility and will now be doing regular shipments from now on.

He said the interim measures program for the chromium project which is actually a pump and treat system to extract the contaminated plume, treat it and pump clean water back in.

“We’ve initiated the interim measures along the southern boundaries which is the area between Laboratory property and the Pueblo of San Ildefonso to establish a hydraulic barrier so that the plume doesn’t continue to migrate”, Hintze said.

Lockhart said the scope of N3B’s work in the legacy cleanup and waste is monitoring, characterization and remediation across the 37 square mile site. He said the key areas are TA-21 where activity has already started, the chromium project in Mortendad Canyon, TA-54 where the transuranic waste drums are stored and the Royal Demolition Explosive (RDX) area where further characterization work is underway. Lockhart said N3B also has groundwater and surface water activities all over the site as well as different aggregate areas of concern throughout the site.

Lockhart noted that N3B is the first contractor selected and awarded by the Department of Energy for EM and that they are very excited and proud about that. He said N3B’s mission is to manage and execute the contract safely, securely and efficiently and listed N3B’s core values as safety, integrity, quality, performance, stewardship, communication and collaboration. He said these dove together very well with the safety, efficiency and transparency goals expressed by Hintze.

Lockhart discussed some of the major scope areas of N3B’s work. N3B does some of the treatment and packaging of some of the waste that is already in drums to make sure they are completely appropriate to be shipped out to WIPP in compliance with their criteria, he said. He said they also have a lot of waste that has been buried, particularly at Area G in TA-54 that will need to be excavated before it is appropriately packaged and shipped off site. He said N3B has landfills to close which will have to be characterized and they will have to follow whatever action is decided by the New Mexico Environment Department on those. There are also a few facilities to decontaminate and demolish, Lockhart said, mostly at TA-21 off DP Road.

“A very key part of our scope is to make all of that activity known to pretty much anyone that wants to know about it. So we do meetings like this with the Pueblos, public meetings several times a year,” he said.

Lockhart said N3B has more than 500 employees in Los Alamos right now located at the Pueblo Complex on Diamond Drive, in Central Park Square, on DP Road in a building they share with Merrick and that they have just leased office space in the building next to the Bradbury Science Museum for some of their training personnel.

Lockhart described some of the process of taking over from the bridge contractor that preceded N3B in the 90-day transition period, including setting up IT systems, cyber security, accounting, procurement, security, badging and clearances.

“It was a hard transition. There were many things with our schedule and with some of the activities that we had to do which were pretty close to unprecedented with when environmental management contractors. Typically when they come in the contractor that’s doing the work has been there for some number of years, they pick up the system, they pick up the people, they pick up the work and it really goes forward without too much upset in the rhythm of the activity,” he said. “We in contrast with that had to do practically everything from start.”

Lockhart said N3B didn’t get nearly as many people as they thought they would.

“The Laboratory is still expanding, they have a lot of people retiring, they are getting a lot of new folks and so they essentially told all of their EM staff that they were guaranteed a job. So when there is very little risk of losing your job, it put us in a position that we were having to hire and recruit for a lot more people than we expected. We thought we would get about half the staff, about 175, but we only ended up getting about 65, so that was another aspect that made it very interesting,” he said.

He said staffing is up now to about 500 with about another 100 to hire as they continue to expand their work and move on with the remedial and waste management work that has to be done under their contract. He said N3B tries to pace their hiring so that they don’t get people on board before they are ready to really put them to work. He said hiring has slowed down but that they expect to hire 100 more people during FY2019.

Lockhart described the Safe-in-90 Plan which he said was a big part of N3B’s start-up and involved an employee-focused approach for slow and careful start-up. He noted that almost six months into the contract N3B has had zero recordable injuries and that that’s a record they want to continue all the way through the contract.

“Safety is our top priority and most of the senior members of our N3B team have learned on our other contracts that doing the work safely and correctly the first time, although it may sometimes seem slow, is actually the fastest way to get to the end goal and complete the mission,” he said.

Lockhart said about 80 percent of N3B’s on-boarded 520 people to date are from New Mexico and about 36 percent subcontractors. He said the company is more or less in routine operations at this stage while also still starting up new activities as they extend their work into more aggregate area cleanup and continue to expand their transuranic waste cleanup.

Watch for Los Alamos Reporter’s story on quesions raised by Councilors at Tuesday’s meeting.