DOE Environmental Management To Clear Decks, Tackle Challenges, White Says At Waste Management Symposia

DOE/EM Senior Advisor William ‘Ike’ White speaks during the plenary session at the 2022 Waste Management Symposia. Photo Courtesy DOE/EM


Editor’s note: Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti, Deputy County Manager Anne Laurent, and County Intergovernmental Affairs Danielle Duran are attending the Symposia

DOE/EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White told an audience at the 2022 Waste Management Symposia on Monday that EM is focused on “clearing the decks” and tackling major remaining hurdles to sustained success.

The last time White had attended the annual conference in person was two years ago. The event was conducted virtually last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The past two years took a heavy toll on each of us,” White said in his plenary session remarks. “These past two years also showed, though, what the men and women across the cleanup complex are capable of.”

White hailed the first large-scale treatment of radioactive and chemical waste from large underground tanks at the Hanford Site through the Tank-Side Cesium Removal System to prepare for eventual vitrification.

“How long have many of you here waited to hear at this conference that DOE is actually starting to treat tank waste at Hanford?” he said.

At the Savannah River Site (SRS), with the Salt Waste Processing Facility in operation, EM now has the site’s entire liquid-waste treatment system up and running, White said. And at the DOE Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site, EM is in in the final stages of preparing the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) for operation.

“We anticipate actual waste processing at IWTU later this year, another accomplishment that has been long in the making,” he said.

White also laid out some remaining hurdles for EM, including:

  • Developing a realistic, achievable approach to address high-level tank waste at the Hanford Site that builds upon the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste Program.
  • Ramping up EM’s tank-waste mission and managing long-term risks to the community.
  • Defining the path forward for key sites such as SRS so they remain integral to DOE’s national security and scientific research missions for decades to come.
  • Strengthening — and in some cases rebuilding — relationships with regulators and stakeholders in key states across EM to gain alignment to enable collective future progress.

“None of this will happen without the right people building a high-quality and diverse workforce that benefits from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to continue this mission long after most of us in this room have retired,” White said.

EM is not alone in its mission to tackle its nuclear cleanup.

“We will need the experience and expertise of the companies participating here this week — large businesses and small,” White said. “We will need input and support from the communities, tribal nations and state regulators with equity in our cleanup program. And we will need to leverage the successes and challenges that our international partners have experienced.”

Noting that this year’s featured country at the symposia is the United Kingdom, White said that EM has had a long and fruitful relationship with the U.K., stretching to the start of the U.K.’s cleanup program and the launch of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

White spoke about EM’s future, touching on the EM Strategic Vision 2022-2032 and some of the work EM hopes to accomplish over the next decade, including:

“This is an exciting future for EM and our ability to achieve it will be based on the work many of you here today are doing now, and what you’ll do going forward,” White said.

White also spoke about how EM aligns with the Biden Administration on environmental justice.

“We are excited Los Alamos has been chosen as one of the Department’s pilot projects for the Justice 40 Initiative,” White said. He noted that the initiative seeks to ensure that EM is delivering at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to traditionally underserved communities.

A key component of EM’s environmental justice efforts at Los Alamos and other EM sites is enhanced stakeholder engagement.

“Our sites are fortunate to be surrounded by diverse communities and tribal nations who are strong partners in advancing cleanup and planning for the future,” White said.

As he concluded his remarks, White said that EM has not only survived the challenges of operating in the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has thrived in conducting the world’s largest environmental cleanup program.

“I am proud and fortunate to be a part of EM at this point in its history, and I hope all of you here today who play a role in our success are excited and proud as well,” White said.