The Mismanagement of Radioactive Waste: Los Alamos, United States

storage of radioactive waste at wipp

Excerpt from Remediation of Selected Transuranic Waste  Drums at Los Alamos National Laboratory –Potential Impact on the Shutdown of the Department’s Waste Isolation Plant by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General Office of Audits and Inspections, Sept. 30, 2014

The Department of Energy’s (Department) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC is one of the Nation’s premier national security laboratories. As part of its mission, LANL generated a large volume of transuranic (TRU) waste consisting mostly of radioactively contaminated clothing, tools, rags, debris and soil. In January 2012, a framework agreement was established between the Department and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to ship 3,706 cubic meters of combustible and dispersible TRU waste from LANL to the Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, for permanent disposal by June 30, 2014. The Department established the Central Characterization Project (CCP) to characterize and certify waste to help ensure that it met WIPP’s waste acceptance criteria. Since the TRU waste campaign began, LANL reported that it had shipped TRU waste to WIPP and was on track to meet target disposal dates.

On February 14, 2014, a radiological release from one TRU waste drum was detected in the underground repository at WIPP. As a consequence, underground operations at WIPP were suspended and the Nation’s only operating deep geologic repository for the permanent disposal of defense-related TRU waste was shut down for an indefinite period. The impact of the shutdown, both incurred to date and in the future, is valued in terms of tens of millions of dollars….

On May 15, 2014, visual evidence confirmed a breached container that originated from LANL. We initiated a special inquiry to determine whether LANL appropriately managed the remediation and repackaging of waste shipped to WIPP….

Notably, Los Alamos National Security, LLC and its subcontractor, Energy  Solutions, added potentially incompatible materials to waste stored in drums during the waste  remediation process at LANL’s Waste Characterization, Reduction and Repackaging Facility  (WCRRF). Specifically:

• Organic absorbent material (organic kitty litter) was added to the waste stored in the  drums, materials that may result in a chemical reaction; and
Liquid acid neutralizers were also addded to the drums, substances that were potentially
incompatible with the stored waste.

LANL’s waste processing and safety related control procedures should have prevented the addition of these potentially incompatible materials. However, the process failed in this matter.
Specifically, LANL’s procedure revision process failed to adequately analyze potential reactivity
issues and/or provide sufficient detail in the waste remediation procedure. In addition, LANL
violated established environmental requirements by treating a corrosive waste outside its
environmental permit by adding neutralizers and absorbents to the waste.

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