Sunday, November 18, 2012

WIPP: How It Gets Stuffed

The Los Alamos Monitor reported yesterday on a request filed by the Southwest Research and Information Center with the New Mexico Environment Department, regarding a SRIC lawsuit against NMED being adjudicated by the NM Court of Appeals. SRIC is requesting a stay of NMED's Nov. 1, 2012 grant of a Permit Modification Request by  the Department of Energy for the continued operation of its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

According to LAM: SRIC and Margaret Elizabeth Richards filed a Notice of Appeal in the NM Court of Appeals against NMED's decision of Nov. 1, 2012 to allow Remote Handled transuranic nuclear waste in shielded containers to be stored at  WIPP.

The appellants and approximately 200 individuals argue that the request to modify the state’s WIPP permit be subject to a public hearing because of the dangers posed by RH waste, the technical complexity of handling RH waste at WIPP and the substantial public interest in the request.

NMED approved DOE's Permit Modification Request although the state agency had in December, 2011 and January, 2012 rejected virtually the same request. [That is, whereas NMED under the outgoing Gov. Richardson had denied the request, NMED under the new Gov. Martinez has approved it.]

SRIC's website contains relevant information:

“SRIC feels that the permit request was incomplete and did not adequately address the real reason that DOE wants shielded containers — there is not enough space for RH waste because of the way the facility has been mismanaged."

In other words, SRIC objects to the proposal to store RH waste in shielded containers at WIPP on the grounds that there is no longer room at WIPP to store similar amounts of RH waste in unshielded containers. This issue has been clarified in a formal request filed with NMED for a stay of NMED's decision to allow the use of shielded containers to store RH waste at WIPP, pending a decision by the NM Court of Appeals of a suit filed by SRIC against NMED.

See SRIC's formal request to NMED for a stay of its grant of the PMR:

The following is excerpted (and contains paraphrasing) from SRIC's formal request to NMED for a stay of its grant of DOE's PMR:

SRIC shows, first, that we are likely to prevail in our Appeal.

An application for a Class 2 Permit Modification should be denied if it is a) incomplete, b) fails to comply with applicable requirements, or c) fails to protect human health or the environment. An application proposed for Class 2 procedures must be denied or reclassified as Class 3 if there is a) significant public concern or b) the modification is complex. each of these criteria provides grounds for vacating the Department's decision. We address them now in order.

a) The application is incomplete  -  because it does not fully explain why the modification is needed.

b) The application conflicts with present requirements  -  Under current regulations, WIPP may store up to 7080 m**3 of RH waste. However, according to a literal interpretation of the permit modification, WIPP will be authorized to store up to 93,750 m**3 of RH waste in shielded containers, which is the current limit for CH waste. That is, the proposed modification appears to confuse the limits for RH and CH waste, thus enabling the storage of much more RH waste than originally intended.

c) The application raises complex issues and issues of significant public concern  -  The changes in capacity limits for RH waste disposal, that will apply under this modification, are a complex issue.

d) Failure to stay the decision may cause irreparable injury  -  Without a stay pending appeal, Permittees will be able to introduce RH waste in shielded containers without realistic limit. Once emplaced, RH waste cannot be extracted without great difficulty, and such becomes more true the longer the waste is in place, and additional waste is emplaced in front of it.

e) A stay will not cause significant injury to Permittees  -  The only injury to Permittees from a stay would be some delay in introducing RH waste in shielded containers.

f) A stay is consistent with the public interest  -  The benefit to the public interest would be that no stranded RH waste in shielded containers would be created.

Thus, it is likely that the NM Court of Appeals will deny the requested Permit Modification. And for this reason, as well as for all of the reasons set forth herein, the Department should issue an order, staying effectiveness of the Nov 1, 2012 determination approving the Permit Modification Request for RH in shielded containers until the NM Court of Appeals acts upon the pending appeal.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

LANL Radiates Economic Benefits

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities held their monthly meeting yesterday at Los Alamos Research Park Bldg in Los Alamos, NM; 9:30AM - 12:30PM.

The RCLC is a group of elected local public officials whose aim is to encourage the integration of DOE-LANS-LANL into the local community, so as to improve the economic outlook for local businesses, and perhaps also eventually for local citizens. This is a task which is critical now, according to individual RCLC members, when the many state and local economies are so distressed.

However, even in the best of times, NM is at the bottom of a list of the 50 states of the US in terms of per capita income, and at the very top of a list of the states in terms of federal dollars returned per dollar of federal taxes paid out. NM also leads the nation in the size of the disparity in income of its poorest citizens, in comparison to its richest.

Approximately 12 RCLC members and staff were in attendance today; the meeting was led by RCLC chairman, and Santa Fe mayor, David Coss. There are also ~30 members of the general public in attendance.

In his opening remarks, chairman Coss  recalled the recent tour taken by RCLC members of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in southern New Mexico. Mayor Coss allowed that RCLC members had been favorably impressed by the tour, and that he personally thought of WIPP as a technological marvel.

This will be the first meeting of RCLC in which the agenda contains an item entitled "Community Voices"; viz., a period of 75 min allotted to local community groups and individuals who signed up in advance, and will present ~5 min talks describing their perspectives on issues relating to LANL, its operations, and its interactions with the local community. Formerly, the general public had not been invited to speak at RCLC meetings.

Among the community voices being heard today were:

1) Ray Baca, the Executive Director fpr NM Building and Construction Trades Council, who spoke about the difficult future confronting the local construction and trades workforce, of which there are now ~700 members at LANL.

2) Jay Coghlan, ED for Nuclear Watch NM, talked about the continued devotion of LANL to the care and feeding of nuclear weapons; ~64% of LANL's current budget, he said, was spent on nuclear weapons work. He thought that,in the future, LANL should focus more on non-proliferation efforts (although not related to the preparation of MOX fuel), and on work connected to the ongoing clean-up of contaminated LANL dump sites.

3) Holly Beaumont, Head of Interfaith Worker Justice, spoke about worker justice issues as being age-old, and of her own perspective on such matters as emanating from the judaic-christian, or abrahamic, tradition.

4) Joni Arends ED of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety spoke about the importance of LANL's Storm Water Permit and the fact that LANL produces contamination that can be carried beyond LANL site boundaries by stormwater runoff. The contaminated stormwater is subject to agreements and oversights which are separate from the those described by the Consent Order, she said.

5) A representative of Tewa Women United spoke about the continuing threat to the traditions of Pueblo peoples presented by ongoing LANL operations. She noted that the threat of contaminated water emanating from LANL property is particularly serious for native women, and for their children, who are among the most vulnerable members of the local community.

6) William Enloe, Chair LA National Bank, and Kevin Holsapple, of the LA Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the importance for local businesses of ensuring stable LANL funding. This is especially critical now, they said, given that the  business climate is being stressed by the stumbling national economy.

7) Chip Chippeaux, Chair of Century Bank of Santa Fe, spoke about the need to ensure stable LANL funding, even though the type of work being performed at LANL is controversial within parts of the local community. He suggested that local community members needed to join forces in their efforts to help to secure stable LANL funding, in spite of the existence of this controversy.

A good deal of the meeting was spent discussing bureaucratic matters of interest to particular RCLC group members. Many of these matters, especially as related to the RCLC budget and to travel on RCLC business by individual RCLC members, were broached by the RCLC ED, De Anza Spaien, and took up `~1 hr of the Coalition's meeting time today.This is not to try to take anything away from Ms. Sapien, who appears to be a competent, and even formidable, ED. Rather, the problem here, if any, lies in the nature of the bureaucratic group.

Comparing the RCLC and the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board , there are some obvious similarities and differences.

1) Both of these groups are bureaucratic in form and spend a significant fraction of their time and effort in maintaining themselves as such. However, it seems interesting that the annual budget for the RCLC is much smaller than that of the NNMCAB; e.g., ~$200K for the RCLC vs $2 million for the NNMCAB, even though these two groups are of a similar size. (The NNMCAB budget number here may have recently been reduced.) Moreover, the sources of this funding are also different. Whereas, most of the money to run the RCLC now comes from local governments, with only a minor fraction from the DOE, the NNMCAB's entire budget comes from DOE.

2) Therefore, and unsurprisingly, the mandates of these two groups are different. The RCLC is apparently intended to deepen relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community, while seeking to promote the health of LANL as an institution, for the purpose of trying to grow the local economy. By contrast, the NNMCAB is specifically mandated by the DOE to help to smooth relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community, in order to promote the well-being of LANL, but only incidentally to promote the well-being of the local community.

3) Nevertheless, the NNMCAB occasionally entertains challenges by individual members to the notion that the influence of LANL on the local community is altogether benign. (The size of these challenges is kept within strict limits, normally, since DOE oversight of the NNMCAB is hands-on and almost always effective.) It remains to be seen whether or not the RCLC will allow the expression of active criticsm of LANL, and its programs, to become a regular part of the RCLC agenda. It is without a doubt that such critical views are a persistent part of the spectrum of views within the local community. What is unknown, however, in my view, is the degree to which such critical views may be prevalent.

4) The reinforcement of pro-LANL views is commonplace at NNMCAB meetings. Information about LANL operations is made available regularly at these meetings by informed and intelligent LANL presenters and the volume of information presented is large. The effect on NNMCAB members of these presentations is usually very positive. In a similar vein, the RCLC heard today from Kurt Steinhaus, LANL Director of the Community Programs Office. Mr. Steinhaus pointed out that LANS donates ~$3 million annually from its management fee (~$75 million, almost all of which is divided among senior LANS managers) to support educational development within the local community.

Finally, a new element in the ongoing drama of relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community was added when the ED of the Energy Communities Alliance, Seth Kirshenberg, delivered a brief introduction to the ECA and its projects. The ECA is an group of communities, each one centered at a DOE laboratory. These labs are, of course, located all around the country. Hence, the ECA tries to express a community of interests and aims to expedite and improve the relations between the DOE, its laboratories, and the surrounding communities nationwide. It was decided today that the RCLC will become a member of the ECA, and that Mayor Coss will attend the upcoming ECA national convention in New Orleans. RCLC member F. Berting (who is an LA County Council member, as well as national secretary of the ECA) may also attend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

DOE-LANS: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

As of 10/29/12,  the Chromium Settlement Agreement of 2007, between DOE-LANS and NMED, has been terminated and the Consent Order of 2005 has been modified. The following link to an NMED page
( contains the related information:

"Approval of Consent Order Modification"

"Compliance Order on Consent March 1, 2005 (Revised 10/29/2012)"  [287 pages]

"Termination of Chromium Settlement (10/30/2012)"
The Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Final Order was accepted by the Parties in June, 2007.

Among other things, the Settlement Agreement stipulated that the RACER database would be subject to third party management by the New Mexico Community Foundation, for the duration of the Agreement. In particular, in Section IV of the Agreement, entitled RACER, the following language appeared:

"The project managers (Colorado State University and the Risk Assessment Corporation) will involve the public, including all interested stakeholders, in the project through public meetings and opportunities for public comment."

"The project will accumulate, consolidate, and organize all environmental data from the Laboratory and enter the data into a computer database. The database will allow the spatial display of the data, the comparison of the data to standards and reference values, and the plotting of trends in the data. the database will be functioning and accessible to the Department (NMED) and to the public by December 31, 2007."

"The database will be turned over to an independent manager, the New Mexico Commubity Foundation, by September 30, 2008."
However, the revised Compliance Order on Consent does not refer to third party management of the database; i.e., as described in the new Section III.Z, which appears below. Apparently, the new database  will be managed entirely by LANS, for the duration of the revised Consent Order.

"The Respondents shall maintain a publicly accessible database containing all data from environmental media (i.e., soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater, air, and biota) collected by the Respondents as part of environmental investigation and monitoring. The database shall include the capacity for the spatial display of data, the comparison of data to standards and reference values, and the plotting of trends in the data. Additionally, to the extent that data are collected pursuant to the requirements of the Consent Order, the database shall include the analytical quality assurance/quality control and data validation information. As new data becomes available, the Respondents shall enter such data into the public database through updates on no less than a monthly basis. The Respondents shall correct any inaccuracy in the data within 60 days of discovery of such inaccuracy."
Therefore, for the general public, the reliability of included environmental data will remain an open question. This is in spite of the fact that the purpose of a publicly accessible environmental database, must be to help to allay the fears and suspicions of the general public with regard to LANL operations. But, since there is no provision for independent oversight of the new database in the revised Consent Order, the public will probably continue to be skeptical of LANS' management of the data.

Is DOE-LANS' failure to provide for independent oversight of its publicly accessible environmental database simply a matter of money?  Or does DOE-LANS continue to think of independent oversight as an avoidable inconvenience?