Sunday, May 23, 2010

WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit Renewal Process

As of April 27, 2010 a two-month period began for public comment on renewal of the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit, recently proposed and issued in draft form by HWB/NMED. When finalized, the renewed Permit will allow for lawful continuation by the WIPP site, for a period of ten years, of the acceptance and storage of mixed chemical and transuranic (TRU) wastes, resulting from the DOE's nuclear weapons program.

Documents relating to the renewal process may be found on NMED's public website. Among these documents is a copy of the proposed renewal Permit and a WIPP Fact Sheet describing the Permit history, as well as a summary of the points at which the proposed renewal Permit differs from the previous version. These differences are partly the result of Permittee requests, and partly owing to NMED's desire for consistency. According to NMED:

"The draft Permit includes several conditions that are newly imposed on WIPP, but have been included in other hazardous waste facility Permits issued by NMED."

1) "Community Relations Plan: The draft Permit directs the Permittees to establish and carry out a community relations plan to inform the nearby communities and members of the public of permit-related activities. In addition, the plan will give these entities a means to give feedback and input to the Permittees and will seek to minimize disputes and resolve differences between the Permittees and interested parties."

2) "Information Repository: The draft Permit requires the Permittees to establish an information repository (IR) containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit. The Department requires that the IR be located either as a virtual or electronic repository, at a physical location, or both. The Department considers an electronic IR available through the internet to be more readily accessible and therefore more utilized. The Department considers the requirement to include particular documents in an electronic IR to be easier to enforce because the Department can access an internet based repository at any time. The Department’s experience with physical IRs is that they are often incomplete and that they create a burden on third parties to ensure that documents are not removed or altered. The Department encourages the Permittees to collaborate with interested parties to determine an effective and reasonable IR. In any event, the Department maintains a physical copy of information in the IR in its Administrative Record."

3) "Waste minimization: The draft Permit requires a waste minimization program to
reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous wastes generated at WIPP. The regulations at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9) require an annual certification by the Permittees that they have in place a program to reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous waste generated. In this section the Department has included specific program requirements to make the condition enforceable and protective. EPA is encouraging states to enforce the waste minimization requirements at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9). These requirements were previously contained in Module VII. The Department requires that the waste minimization program be a forward looking document for planning purposes to integrate the waste minimization program into WIPP’s operating principles."

Of particular interest here is NMED's new requirement (2) for WIPP to establish an "information repository", in electronic and/or physical form, "containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit". This is similar to what will likely be required of NNSA/LANS, in the soon to be issued Hazardous Waste Permit, for operations conducted at LANL.

In the recently concluded Hearing, in which issues relating to that new Permit were extensively discussed, Mr. Bearzi, the HWB/NMED head, allowed that the establishment of an information repository would be required of NNSA/LANS, but only if such would be authorized by NMED’s Secretary Ron Curry.

Citizens groups have asked that a physical information repository, reflecting issues relating to the Hazardous Waste Permit for LANL, be set up at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). NNMC will soon also be the home of the RACER data project. RACER is a vehicle for bringing precise information relating to the detection and characterization of environmental contaminants, resulting from LANL operations, to the general public.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Open Burning at TA-16: What's Up With That?

The Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing, underway for the last two weeks in venues all around northern New Mexico, was held on Friday, April 23, 2010, in Los Alamos on the campus of UNM-LA. To date, the Hearing has featured several issues of compelling interest to: 1) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), its owner, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and its present management contractor, Los Alamos National Security - Limited Liability Company (LANS); 2) the Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB), an arm of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED); 3) a coalition of citizens’ activist groups led by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS).

One such issue has been the question of whether or not HWB/NMED would grant a permit to NNSA/LANS to continue the Open Burning (OB) of explosives residues at TA-16. Evidently, the OB of explosives residues has been a common practice at LANL, dating back to the 1940’s.

The citizens’ groups have contended that OB, as practiced at TA-16, is unsafe to human health and to the environment. It appears to this observer that some evidence of this has been presented at the Hearing, during the last two weeks, albeit small. Also, NMED has seemed to me to be impressed by this evidence, although just barely. Nevertheless, NMED had proposed, prior to the Hearing, to deny the OB permit for TA-16. This had been, they said, principally because of the volume of citizens’ protests they had received about this matter.

NNSA/LANS has been fighting back. Prior to the Hearing they induced both the Española City Council and the Rio Arriba Board of County Commissioners to write letters about OB operations at TA-16. These letters, available for perusal on NMED’s public website, are supportive of NNSA/LANS operations, generally, and of Open Burning at TA-16, in particular. Interestingly, in both of these letters, patriotic themes are struck with much vigor.

Indeed, patriotic themes were also struck resoundingly at the Hearing on Friday by LANS managers and by private citizens making public statements supportive of NNSA/LANS and its OB practices at TA-16.

It is often fruitless to speculate about motivations. Nevertheless, one is inclined to wonder about what is driving this campaign of NNSA/LANS to “have its way” at TA-16. Could it be that there is more going on at TA-16 than meets the eye? Why have LANS managers maintained so doggedly that there are no materials contaminated by dioxins and furans being burned at TA-16? No one from either NMED or the citizens’ groups has claimed otherwise. And why have NNSA bosses stated so emphatically that there are no materials contaminated by radioactive substances being burned at TA-16? None of the other parties at this Hearing has even hinted that this was so. No one, that is, but Joni Arends of CCNS who, on Friday, when queried by LANS staff if she would like to go on a guided tour of TA-16 asked, “can I bring my radiation detector?”