BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A report generated by resident inspectors of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board at Los Alamos National Laboratory indicates that transuranic waste certification activities were suspended in November at LANL following questions about the accuracy of acceptable knowledge documentation.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board is an independent organization within the executive branch of the United States Government, chartered with the responsibility of providing recommendations and advice to the President and the Secretary of Energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy defense nuclear facilities. The resident inspectors at LANL are David Gutowski and Jonathan Plaue.
Published Friday, the report states the concern involved the presence of unreacted calcium metal in salt residues from the direct oxide reduction (DOR) process. It says DOR uses excess amounts of calcium metal as an initial reactant, meaning that some will remain after completion of the process. Under certain circumstances, calcium metal can pose a pyrophoric reactive hazard, which is prohibited by the waste acceptance criteria for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). As a result, the report states that certain Triad waste generating activities in the Plutonium Facility, as well as WIPP shipments from LANL, were also curtailed.
The report states that personnel from the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration and Environmental Management Headquarters, the Carlsbad Field Office, Central Characterization Program, Triad, N3B, the Lab’s legacy waste cleanup contractor and both local DOE Field Offices met to discuss the situation.
A LANL spokesman told the Los Alamos Reporter Tuesday that the Weapons Program generates a wide variety of wastes, each of which is carefully and safely evaluated to ensure compliance with the waste criteria at WIPP.
“There is high confidence that the Laboratory is meeting those requirements, we provided the leadership team at WIPP the necessary assurances, and the suspension of TRU waste shipments was lifted after three days while the question was being resolved by a joint team from the Laboratory and WIPP,” he said.
The DNFSB report said it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a reactive calcium hazard to warrant continued suspension of waste generating and certification activities but that the waste containers with DOR salts were being held pending additional analysis, documentation and testing.
“Notably, they identified the need to update the waste database to include additional information on when and how items were generated,” the report states, adding that overall, management developed an action plan and committed to increased teleconferences to strengthen communications.
“In the opinion of the resident inspectors, management missed an opportunity to identify the process and procedural deficiencies that contributed to the situation. In particular, management deferred discussions on reviewing the formal interface agreement and ensuring acceptable knowledge documents generated by Triad and CCP correctly reflect processes,” the report states.
The report notes that the situation contributed to a decision to unload two previously prepared shipments of transuranic waste destined for WIPP.
“In this case, N3B needs to verify the absence of DOR salts in the shipments, which could not be accomplished prior to exceeding shipping container time constraints. N3B relies on Triad to access many of the processing records and procedures necessary to review the origins of the waste at Area G,” the report ends.