A large crowd that included state and local elected officials as well as representatives of anti-nuclear groups attended Monday’s Department of Energy and New Mexico Environment Department on Consent Order Milestones for FY2020. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
DOE Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze, LANL Permitting Manager for NMED Neelam Dhawan, and Stephanie Stringer, NMED Resource Protection Division Director answer questions during Monday evening’s meeting at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will hold a meeting Jan. 9, 2020, on the 2016 Compliance Order on Consent in order to fully understand what the issues are with the document. Stephanie Stringer Resource Protection Division Director said NMED wants to know what is working, what is perceived to not be working, what isn’t working for the various parties.
Stringer made the announcement at a meeting held by DOE and NMED to discuss the FY2020 milestones Monday, Dec. 16 in Los Alamos.
Stringer said the information gathered at the January meeting will help NMED make an informed decision for the next step, whether it’s continue on with the Consent Order or think about other options that might be on the table.
“Rather than just hearing that the 2016 Consent Order has issues, we want to fully grasp and understand what those issues are to make that informed decision for the path forward under this administration,” she said.
At the outset Stringer gave an overview how the Consent Order works for revisions to the milestones, targets and cleanup campaigns based on factors such as actual work progress as a result of changing conditions, risk and funding. Those fiscal year milestones and targets are finalized after DOE receives its fiscal year appropriation so that they can figure out what they can do based on funding A public meeting is held to discuss the work progress, the facilities change conditions and funding levels, Stringer said.
“During each planning process the DOE is required to provide us with an estimated date as to when all work in the Consent Order will be completed. It is my understanding that the date did not change with this year’s update and will remain 2036 for the final completion date,” she said.
Stringer described the process that was gone through to get to the point of the milestones meeting which included three meetings to discuss the update to Appendix B of the Consent Order. She said although it is not a negotiating process, NMED and DOE have the opportunity to share their thoughts and see if they can be incorporated into the next year’s milestones. The final Appendix B was submitted on Nov. 7.
For federal FY 2019, 17 of the milestones were completed as planned, Stringer said. She noted that NMED granted extension for two milestones meaning that they are no longer considered milestones. If appropriate she said they will become new milestones for the next fiscal year.
On another milestone, the extension request was denied and $58,000 in penalties was assessed.
“We’re trying to be very thoughtful and fair in our regulatory oversight and hold LANL accountable for their responsibilities,” Stringer said.
She said the milestones don’t spell out all of the activities that are ongoing at the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau relating to LANL’s projects; that there are 71 other documents that were completed and reviewed by the HWB including things like monthly notifications of groundwater daily reviews, monitoring reports and certifications of completion for various activities.
“While it sounds nice and packaged when we have 20 milestones, there’s so much more going on that’s not reflected in the summary numbers that we provide,” Stringer said.
Seventeen milestones were selected for FY 2020, eight of which were based on FY 2019 targets along with two modified milestones and seven new milestones.
The Chromium Interim Measure and Characterization Campaign takes up six of those milestones and the RDX Characterization Campaign has two milestones. Supplemental Investigation Reports make up two milestones and the Technical Area 21 D&D and Cleanup Campaign accounts for one more. The Southern External Boundaries Campaign has three milestones for Chaquehui Canyon, South Ancho Canyon and Lower Water/Indio Canyon Aggregate Area Reports.
The last three milestones are for Material Disposal Areas Remedies Campaign, multi campaigns and a reconfiguration completion report for Well R-31.
DOE Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze, speaking after Stringer, said in addition to the Consent Order, EM-LA had the Hazardous Waste Permit, the Individual Permit. He said EM-LA has a lot of things they do work on.
“One of the things they need to do is show the big picture of how all of these activities align and relate together. It’s difficult when we just come here and talk about these 10-20 milestones in the Consent Order,” he said.
He noted several accomplishments of the EM-LA program during FY 2019 including 16 shipments of waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad and added that the program needs to send 700 shipments from LANL.
Hintze addressed Milestone #14, the Westbay Wells Reconfiguration Report saying EM-LA learned a lot from it. He said there were seven old wells to reconfigure and they were all put in one milestone. Two of them were in bad condition and were disintegrating and so far beyond the expectations, they were kind of put aside. He said the other five wells were not finished until 30 days after the due date leading to the $2,000 a day fine from NMED. The five wells were finished within the additional 30 days and the reports provided to NMED, Hintze said.
Later in the meeting Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico asked if the $58,000 fine had been paid to NMED yet and if so, what fund it had come out of – the cleanup fund or the Department of Justice Fund.
“We tried to determine who was responsible and in this case N3B stepped up and as the contractor and they are paying that fine and it’s coming out of their pocket. It is not paid from the appropriated funds. That’s not the case for all of them but it is the case in this one,” Hintze said.
The other two remaining wells were moved into FY2020 and Hintze said EM-LA is still trying to figure out their reconfiguration.
The last milestone deals with the Aggregate Area Known Cleanup Sites Campaign solid waste management units (SWMUs) which are areas that are dug up and investigated to see if some sort of needs to be done on them. Based on the history and all the available information on one of the sites, Hintze said they were expecting to get 386 cubic yards and it turned out to be more than 1,300 cubic yards which meant that the date had to be extended because of the amount of waste they actually had at that site.
Hintze briefly addressed PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. He said PFAS are in Teflon for cookware and chemicals for firefighting and more.
“The country is still trying to address the standards. What we have seen in our results so far at LANL are about one-tenth of what the screening level is right now,” he said.
Hintze noted that two shipments of waste a week are being sent out from LANL. He said what EM-LA wants to do is send out three or four shipments not only of the EM portion but also the National Nuclear Security Administration new generation waste which is waste generated after 1999.
“We to make sure we have optimum loads going down to WIPP. A shipment is three Tru-Pacs which can hold 42 drums. You are limited by weight and by how much fissile material is in there. Right now we’re shipping drums that have been grouted so they are very heavy and a shipment is limited to 25.8 drums. Combining with the NNSA to get the full 42 drums sent with each shipment.
“This benefits everyone because if the shipments are not full, you have to use dummy drums, empty drums to take up space, not only in the shipment but when they’re down there at WIPP,” Hintze said.
During public comment, Nuclear Watch New Mexico executive director Jay Coghlan said DOE is making the claim that cleanup is more than half complete at Los Alamos. He asked Stringer what NMED’s position is on DOE’s claim. Stringer said she could not answer that question as far as percentage goes but that the regulatory components are being met.
Hintze responded that at the outset of cleanup, there were 2,100 sites and that more than half are completed bringing that number down to 950. He stressed that that’s just the number of sites and not the volume of work.
“We’re not trying to hide anything but that’s exactly the statement and you’re exactly right. There’s some harder stuff that we have to clean up and sometimes you want to start with cleaning up the easier stuff so that you can learn and then apply it to some of the more difficult stuff,” he said.
Coghlan said that three months after what he regards as the “the toothless 2016 Consent Order”, three months after Hintze’s office came out a lifecycle baseline cost with total costs for projected cleanup.
“But you also stated that 5,000 cubic meters of waste needs to be treated omitting the fact that there’s something like 150,000 cubic meters in Area G. Your office indicated to Nuclear Watch that there would be a new baseline last January – where is that baseline estimate and when is it coming out,” he said.
Hintze responded to Coghlan saying, “You’re exactly right and I’m just thankful that you keep me honest. The amount of waste that we have to send by law down to WIPP is roughly 4,000 cubic meters of transuranic waste whereas the waste Coghlan is talking about will not go down to WIPP because it is not defined as transuranic,” he said.
Hintze told Coghlan that EM-LA need a new baseline and that now N3B, the legacy waste cleanup contractor has one so EM-LA can go back and re-do that lifecycle cost estimate based on what they have in their contract. He expected that document to be submitted to DOE Headquarters for approval in March.