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Below are the latest information and documents on current topics such as recertification and ongoing inspection activities:

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Radiological Event at the WIPP

On April 24, DOE released its Phase I Accident Investigation Report and accompanying summary slides regarding the WIPP event. These can can be found at: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/path_forward.html

EPA Response to 2014 Radioactive Release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

EPA is in regular contact with DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center. To date, EPA’s review of the data collected indicates:

Updates

June 11, 2014: EPA published a report on the April 9, 2014, visit to the Waste Control Specialists. EPA determined that the system of controls in place adequately tracks waste containers in storage and appropriately maintains waste inventory records. The site visit report can be viewed/downloaded (in Adobe PDF format) at: EPA’s Review of DOE’s Inventory Tracking for TRU Wastes at Waste Control Specialists (PDF). (10 pg, 2.64Mb, About PDF)

June 6, 2014: EPA completed the analysis of the air filters collected by our team at WIPP in April 2014. All the results were considered "non-detect" for americium-241, plutonium-238 and plutonium-239/240; these are the radionuclides of concern with a release at the WIPP site. “Non-detect” means that no radioactivity was detected or measurable beyond the analytical uncertainty range. To date, EPA's review of the data collected indicates that the radiation releases did not pose a public health concern. Learn more about EPA’s WIPP Air Sampling Data from April 2014 (PDF) (3 pg, 1.50Mb, About PDF)

May 1, 2014: On April 9, 2014 EPA’s WIPP waste characterization team visited Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to determine whether the Department of Energy (DOE) was meeting EPA’s waste inventory tracking requirements. DOE began shipping waste to the Andrews, Texas-based WCS in April 2014 due to the temporary closure of WIPP. Under the State of New Mexico Governor’s Directive, DOE must remove 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory by June 30, 2014. During the WCS visit, EPA observed unloading and storage operations, interviewed WCS and DOE Contractor staff and evaluated objective evidence for technical adequacy. EPA determined that the system of controls in place adequately tracks waste containers in storage and appropriately maintains waste inventory records.

April 25, 2014: On Thursday, April 24, members of the EPA’s WIPP team attended and presented at the Carlsbad Townhall meeting.

April 17 2014: On Wednesday, April 16, the EPA WIPP Team performed an operational check on its four air samplers at the facility and also met with DOE representatives on the Agency's continuing monitoring activities. Additional air sampling and shipping equipment was left at the site for future filter replacements.

April 16, 2014: On Tuesday, April 15, the EPA WIPP Team performed the first of three filter change-outs for its four air samplers (co-located alongside DOE's samplers) at the facility. After being checked and verified, the four samples (plus a blank filter) were packaged and shipped to the Agency's National Analytical Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL) for analysis. EPA staff were also given a tour of the New Mexico Environment Department's solar-powered monitor in Mobely Ranch near the WIPP site.

April 15, 2014: On Monday, April 14, the EPA WIPP team met with DOE staff and toured the facility's Radioanalytical Laboratory. The Agency also met with WIPP Environmental Group representatives to relocate air sampling, air filter and shipping supplies on-site at the WIPP for continued monitoring. Finally, the WIPP team attended and presented at the Council meeting in Jal, NM.

April 14, 2014: On Friday, April 11, EPA's WIPP team toured the WIPP Waste Handling Facility alongside DOE staff. The Agency's field team also met with the environmental sampling and radiation control groups to ensure continued coordination in all ongoing activities.

April 11, 2014: Yesterday, EPA's WIPP assessment and monitoring team met with DOE WIPP laboratory personnel and observed laboratory operations. Members of the EPA WIPP team also attended and presented at the Carlsbad Townhall meeting.

April 9, 2014: Since arriving at WIPP on Monday, members of EPA’s environmental monitoring and assessment team completed an initial review of the operations of DOE’s air samplers and placed EPA air samplers at three sites near existing DOE samplers.

April 7, 2014: Members of EPA’s environmental monitoring and assessment team are arriving at WIPP today. This site visit will support EPA’s larger, long-term evaluation of WIPP’s continued compliance with the requirements of 40 CFR Part 191, Subpart A.
While at the WIPP facility, EPA will:

March 26, 2014: EPA has been in daily contact with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in actively overseeing the actions being taken by the Department of Energy (DOE) related to the February 2014 radiological event at the WIPP. Based on the available information, the Agency does not believe that the radioactive releases from the WIPP present public health concerns or regulatory compliance issues. As DOE plans to enter the facility, EPA will deploy several air samplers to validate and verify DOE monitoring. The Agency will continue to communicate regularly with DOE and the NMED, and will share information with the public on EPA’s oversight actions at the WIPP facility through this website and other mechanisms. A one-page summary of EPA's current response and actions related to the event can also be viewed/downloaded (in Adobe PDF format) below: EPA Actions in Response to Release of Radioactive Material from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (PDF) (1 p, 98 K About PDF)

Click images to enlarge

May 1, 2014: At the beginning of April, EPA staff visited the Waste Control Specialist facility in Texas, which is storing transuranic waste during the temporary closure of WIPP.

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April 11, 2014: EPA's WIPP team tours the WIPP Waste Handling Facility with DOE staff.

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April 10, 2014: EPA staff meet with DOE staff at the WIPP laboratory. EPA WIPP team attend and present at the Carlsbad Townhall meeting.

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April 9, 2014: EPA air samplers (boxes on stands) and DOE air samplers (that look like little houses) are collocated at sites near WIPP. EPA staff view the WIPP salt shaft.

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April 8, 2014: EPA's WIPP team visits Department of Energy's low-volume air samplers as part of their initial review of DOE's air sampling plans.

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April 7, 2014: EPA staff set up air samplers near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The results from the air filter analyses will help independently corroborate Department of Energy's results.

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EPA’s Role at WIPP

EPA’s role at the WIPP is to certify Department of Energy (DOE) compliance with public radiation dose and groundwater protection standards. EPA determines if DOE is in compliance by conducting regular inspections of the WIPP facility and by reviewing DOE documents and operation plans.

Learn more about EPA’s oversight role at WIPP.

Relevant Links


Public Meetings -- Panel Closure Proposed Rule

The EPA will be holding two public meeting sessions in New Mexico related to the Agency's recent proposed rule regarding DOE's panel closure redesign planned change request. With the formal public formal comment period still underway, the purpose of these meetings is to gather comments from members of the public on the proposed rulemaking and to provide a facilitated forum for clarifying questions. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will also be in attendance. The logistics for both meetings in Carlsbad and Albuquerque are as follows:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Carlsbad, New Mexico
U.S. Department of Energy
Carlsbad Field Office
Skeen-Whitlock Building
Main Auditorium
4021 National Parks Highway
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa
Sandia Ballroom VI-VIII
1000 Woodward Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 8710
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

UPDATED: The public comment period for the proposed redesign of the WIPP panel closure system is officially closed. Below you will find summaries from both the informal public meetings held in Carlsbad and Albuquerque, NM.


Panel Closure Redesign -- Proposed Rule & Planned Change Request

On December 3, 2013, the EPA published a Federal Register Notice proposing to approve the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) planned change request to implement the Run-of-Mine Salt Panel Closure System (ROMPCS) at the WIPP. The proposed action will modify a small portion of 40 CFR 194 (the WIPP Compliance Criteria), Appendix A, Condition 1, to allow an EPA-approved panel closure other than the currently-required Option D design. Rather than utilizing Option D – which requires the installation of concrete monoliths and mortared explosion walls – the new design will make use of mined salt backfill and steel bulkheads to seal waste panels in the repository. The FR notice announcing the proposed rule, as well the Agency's Technical Support Document (TSD) supporting its proposed decision, can be found below in Adobe PDF format:

The Agency verified the DOE-provided technical analyses demonstrating that the WIPP containment requirements of 40 CFR Part 191.13 continue to be met with the modified panel closure design. These limits ensure the isolation of transuranic waste from the accessible environment over the 10,000-year regulatory period. The proposed changes reduce costs and impacts on current and future waste emplacement activities. However, they do not lessen the requirements for complying with the Compliance Criteria, nor do these changes impact the technical approach that the EPA will employ when considering any future planned changes to the panel closure system.

The FR notice announcing the proposed rule and accompanying supplemental information can all be found in the Agency's electronic docket established for this action at regulations.gov. Please click on the first link below to view this information and to directly submit comments online. In addition and for your convenience, we have also provided the direct regulations.gov docket weblinks for the Agency's Technical Support Document (TSD) supporting its proposed decision below:

This action opens a 60-day comment period on the proposed changes, which closes on February 3, 2014. The EPA is planning to hold informal public meetings in New Mexico on this proposed action sometime in January 2014; updated information on these meetings will be posted in the coming weeks. In addition, all prior EPA-DOE correspondence and submitted documentation related to this action that was posted previously on our web site can still be found below:

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On September 28, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a planned change request for panel closure redesign, which would modify Condition 1 of the Final WIPP Certification Decision for 40 CFR Part 194.

After 12 years of operating experience, DOE has acquired considerable experience and knowledge regarding the behavior of the WIPP repository, along with the nature and behavior of disposed transuranic (TRU) waste. In EPA's 1998 WIPP Certification Decision, the Agency listed a number of conditions - one of which was that the panel closure system (PCS) to be used in WIPP be "Option D," as specified in DOE's Compliance Certification Application (CCA). This option specified that certain components be constructed using Salado Mass Concrete (SMC).

After numerous large scale tests, DOE states that SMC cannot meet the design and performance requirements for the panel closures as specified in the CCA. Since results from monitoring for explosive gases in the closed panels has established that the measured concentrations of methane and hydrogen will remain below the lower limits through the operational period, the Department has submitted a new panel closure design - the Run-of Mine Panel Closure (ROMPC).

The Department submitted a performance assessment (PA) for the proposed panel closure redesign as part of their documentation package. The results of the PA show that WIPP will remain in compliance with all disposal requirements 40 CFR Part 191, Subparts B and C, and essentially have the same performance as the original Option D design.

Complete details of the panel closure redesign planned change request (including an overview presentation provided at an August 2011 technical meeting) can be found below:

The EPA sent the DOE a series of comments related to the initial proposal, and the Department has responded with supplemental information on the panel closure redesign and associated performance assessment (PCS-2012 PA).  All of this information can be found below in Adobe .pdf format:

December 2012 Informal Public Meeting Materials (Carlsbad & Santa Fe, NM)


Shielded Containers

UPDATED: The EPA has determined that the DOE has met the Agency's previous condition placed on the use of shielded containers for RH TRU waste destined for disposal at WIPP. The Department is now authorized to ship waste only from approved waste streams using the shielded container assembly (SCA) and complex-wide procedures/processes associated with the SCA.

This approval comes after a thorough technical review of information submitted by the DOE, as well as comments submitted by interested stakeholders. The Agency's approval letter can be found in Adobe PDF format below.

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The DOE has submitted additional information related to shielded containers and complex-wide procedures that will be implemented by CCP to ensure that the surface dose rate from the containers is below the RH-waste limit of 200 millirem/hour. The DOE's letter also references an April 2013 EPA e-mail regarding dose measurement uncertainty, which has also been provided. This information can be viewed/downloaded in Adobe PDF format below.

August 5, 2013 DOE Submission

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The EPA has issued its final technical decision regarding the U.S Department of Energy's (DOE's) shielded containers planned change request. The DOE originally submitted this request on November 15, 2007, which is documented in the accompanying information below. Since that time, the Department has submitted supplemental information related to the shielded containers, most recently on December 3, 2010. This information includes all of the stakeholder concerns brought up during the public meetings held in November 2007, as well as input received during our initial informal comment period, which closed in January 2008.

The Agency opened an additional informal comment period on the shielded containers proposed decision. The comment period was originally scheduled to close after 60 days on on May 24, 2011. However, after requests from the public, the EPA extended it for another 30 days. The second informal comment period for this proposed decision closed on June 23, 2011.

At this time, the EPA approves the emplacement of shielded container assemblies at WIPP -- as outlined below in the letter and attachment (response to comments) -- with one condition. Prior to shipping shielded containers to WIPP, the DOE must demonstrate a consistent complex-wide procedure to ensure that the shielded containers containing RH waste remain below the Land Withdrawal Act surface dose rate limit for CH waste of 200 millirem per hour. The procedure will be evaluated for technical adequacy as part of the Agency’s waste characterization inspection and approval process. Please note that no shielded containers may be shipped to WIPP from any RH TRU site until the EPA inspects and approves the implemented procedure. In addition, the DOE will need a separate hazardous waste permit modification from the New Mexico Environment Department to use the SCA; this approval is independent of that permit modification.

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On November 15, 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a planned change request proposing to package and emplace a portion of the Remote Handled (RH) Transuranic (TRU) Waste Inventory in shielded containers at the WIPP.

Documentation related to this change request is available below, in Adobe .pdf format. One of the documents is a fact sheet that provides the background and history of the issue, a summary of the proposed change as well as the DOE’s rationale and the projected impact on WIPP performance.

Fact Sheets

On December 7, 2007, and April 15, 2008, the EPA submitted comments to the DOE regarding their Shielded Containers planned change request. These comments can be viewed below in Adobe (.pdf) format:

The EPA opened an unofficial 60-day public comment period, which closed on January 29, 2008.

UPDATED: The DOE has submitted supplemental information related to their shielded containers planned change request.  All of this information can be found below in Adobe .pdf format:

April 30, 2008 DOE Submission

October 29, 2008 DOE Submission

On December 11, 2008, the EPA responded with additional comments regarding the DOE's submissions. These comments can be found below in Adobe .pdf format:

January 21, 2009 DOE Submission

June 10, 2009 DOE Submission

August 27, 2009 DOE Submission

March 5, 2010 DOE Submission

June 11, 2010 Submission

September 8, 2010 DOE Submission

November 10, 2010 DOE Submission

December 3, 2010 DOE Submission


Informal Public Meetings -- Panel Closure Redesign

The EPA will be holding two public meeting sessions in New Mexico related to DOE's panel closure redesign planned change request. The purpose of these meetings is to provide a forum to discuss the specifics of the panel closure redesign and the EPA's upcoming proposed rulemaking, which is scheduled for publication in early 2013. The meetings will serve as an informal vehicle to get preliminary comments and input from members of the public in advance of the rulemaking and its associated public meetings. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will also be on hand to answer any stakeholder questions/concerns. The logistics for both meetings in Carlsbad and Santa Fe are as follows:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Carlsbad, New Mexico
U.S. Department of Energy
Carlsbad Field Offic t
Skeen-Whitlock Building
Main Auditorium
4021 National Parks Highway
9:30 AM – 1:00 PM

Thursday, December 6, 2012
Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico Environment Department
Harold L. Runnels Building
Auditorium
1190 St. Francis Drive
9:30 AM - 1:00 PM

UPDATED: Meeting minutes/notes have been compiled and can be viewed/downloaded in Adobe PDF format below.


Drum Accidentally Punctured in the WIPP Repository

On June 19, 2012, during normal waste emplacement activities in the underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) involving contact handled Waste Handling Operations (WHO) personnel, a forklift attachment breached an emplaced waste drum. A forklift operator had approached the waste face with a waste package loaded on the forklift and proceeded to align the forklift with a waste stack column. A WHO spotter was in position and signaled the forklift operator to stop but there was a delay in reaction time between the spotter's signal and the forklift operator's response. The breach was approximately 2 to 3 inches in length and approximately 7 inches from the bottom of the drum. The forklift operator moved the loaded forklift approximately 8 feet away from the waste face and lowered the payload to the ground.

The Facility Shift Manager was notified and personnel in the immediate area were directed to leave through the intake air travel path. Radiological monitoring for personnel in the immediate work area did not reveal any contamination on any of the workers involved. In addition, radiological air monitoring equipment for the affected work area did not alarm or indicate any detection of contamination. Within hours of the event, the Facility Manager directed the development of a work control document, for reentry into the area and to seal the damaged drum. Surveys of the drum, area, and equipment were conducted for radiological contamination. No contamination was found and the drum puncture was sealed.

The DOE notified both the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the EPA of the event, including the cause and details of the incident. Waste handling activities resumed later that same day.



Salt Disposal Investigations

On August 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a planned change notification to begin preparatory activities related to the Salt Disposal Investigations (SDI) project at the WIPP. Though SDI activities will start no sooner than October 1, 2011, DOE submitted early supporting documentation in support of this project.

The primary objective of the SDI project is to provide thermal, structural, and hydro-geochemical data for high temperature (greater than 160 degrees Celsius) effects in bedded salt. Contingent on adequate funding, mining of the test area is projected to being in October 2011 and continue for approximately 80 weeks. Once all equipment and preliminary testing has concluded, the heating tests are scheduled to begin in 2015 and continue for two years, followed by a cool-down phase and post-test forensics to be completed in FY 2018. The results of these investigations will fill information gaps in the current knowledge of thermo mechanical, hydrological, and chemical behavior of salt and wastes disposed in salt and form the technical foundation for design, operation, coupled process modeling, and performance assessment of future salt repositories for heat-generating nuclear waste.

The DOE has submitted results of their preliminary testing and analyses (based onprevious EPA Unreviewed Safety Question [USQ] Determination guidance). The Department submits that the SDI will not have a significant impact on long-term performance of the disposal system, as demonstrated by a thermal analysis and an impact assessment. In addition, the DOE states that the SDI will not require modification to waste disposal processes and will have no significant impact on waste disposal operations.

Complete details of the SDI planned change notification (including an overview presentation provided at an August 2011 technical meeting) can be found below:

Additional comments and correspondence related to the SDI planned change notification is also provided below:

On November 17, 2011, the EPA issued an approval for the initial mining phase of the SDI project, based on responses provided by the DOE. The final design of the heater test portion of the SDI project (which will not commence for a number of years) has not yet been submitted; the Agency will review and issue a decision on the heater tests at a future date. Please check our website periodically for additional updates.

UPDATED: On June 20, 2012, the DOE submitted revisions to the original SDI concept. These revisions added an additional component, and possible alternative to the SDI project entitled the Salt Defense Disposal Investigations (SDDI) project. The details of the proposed SDDI can be found below:


EPA-DOE Technical Meeting & Informal Stakeholder Meeting -- October 2011

The EPA and the DOE met in Albuquerque, NM, on October 18, 2011, to discuss various WIPP technical issues. All of the presentations and information from these meetings are provided in the presentations (in Adobe PDF format) below.

In addition, select staff from the EPA, the DOE and the NMED met with stakeholders in Santa Fe, NM, on October 19, 2011. The meeting minutes and action items resulting from the discussion are also attached below.


Repository Reconfiguration

On August 30, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a proposed planned change request that will relocate Panels 9 and 10 from the main north-south access drifts to south of the existing Panels 4 and 5 in the WIPP repository. The DOE states that relocating these panels will enhance worker safety and reduce maintenance requirements by providing a more stable geotechnical environment.

The Department submitted a performance assessment (PA) for the proposed repository reconfiguration as part of their documentation package. The results of the PA show that the WIPP will remain in compliance with all containment requirements found in 40 CFR 191 and have only a minor effect on total normalized releases from the repository.

Complete details of the repository reconfiguration planned change request (including an overview presentation provided at an August 2011 technical meeting) can be found below:


Biennial Environmental Compliance Report (2008-2010)

Section 9 of the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act (LWA) specifies that every two years the DOE must demonstrate that the WIPP facility complies with applicable Federal laws pertaining to public health and safety of the environment, including the regulations and permit requirements under such laws.  This report is submitted to the EPA as the Biennial Environmental Compliance Report (BECR).  Under the WIPP LWA, EPA is mandated to review the information and determine compliance or non-compliance during the reporting period.

After thorough review, the EPA has concluded that, for the reporting period of April 1, 2008, through March 31, 2010, the WIPP has remained in compliance with applicable environmental Federal laws and regulations. The report itself, as well as the letter confirming compliance and accompanying Federal Register notice, are available below in Adobe .pdf format:

EPA anticipates to receive the 2010-2012 BECR from DOE in November 2012 and will make a final determination sometime in the Summer of 2013.


Public Meetings -- WIPP Recertification (2010)

The EPA held two public meeting sessions in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. The purpose of the meetings were to provide a forum to discuss the Agency's WIPP recertification process (specifically, completeness of the Compliance Rercertification Application [CRA]). The meetings will serve as a folllow-up to our previous meetings held in June 2009; an update on EPA comments and DOE responses related to the CRA will be given to the public. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will also be on hand to answer any stakeholder questions/concerns. The logistics for the meeting are as follows (and detailed in the fact sheet below:

Location: Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North
5151 San Francisco Road, NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109-4641
(505) 821-3333

Sessions: 1:30 - 4:30 PM
6:00 - 9:00 PM


Public Meetings -- WIPP Recertification (2009)

The EPA held two public meeting sessions in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 30th, 2009. The purpose of the meetings were to provide a forum to discuss the Agency's recertification process and related issues or concerns from the public. Information on specific WIPP technical issues (e.g., performance assessment, waste inventory, hydrogeology, etc.), as well as details on our projected schedule & timeline for completeness and final recertification decision are anticipated to be discussed. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will also be on hand to answer any stakeholder questions/concerns. The logistics for the meeting are as follows:

Location: Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North
5151 San Francisco Road, NE
Albuquerque, NM 87109-4641
(505) 821-3333

Sessions: 1:30 - 5:00 PM
6:30 - 9:00 PM


Drum Accidentally Punctured in the WIPP Underground

On the morning of August 4, 2008, the DOE notified the EPA that during underground operations on August 3, 2008, WIPP staff noticed that a drum had a 1-2 inch gash in it. The DOE believes that the drum was punctured during emplacement activities. Initial tests conducted by DOE detected no releases in the area of the drum or in the radiation monitors at the WIPP. The Department has temporarily halted shipments to the WIPP.

Additional tests have been done (including the entire area around the payload stacks and breached drum) through August 5, 2008, and the DOE has still detected no radiation from the drum. The drum contains waste from a debris waste stream and the waste is in an inner plastic bag that apparently has not ruptured. The drum has been sealed and theDOE plans to have it overpacked underground. Waste shipments will continue to be suspended until final disposition of the drum is determined.


Los Alamos National Laboratory TRU waste shipments suspension lifted

On June 6, 2008, the EPA was notified by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that on May 20, 2008, the Central Characterization Program (CCP) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) shipped an improperly certified non-conformant (NCR) drum (# LAS817174) of contact handled (CH) transuranic (TRU) waste containing prohibited liquids to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for disposal. According to the DOE notification, the drum was mistakenly added to a group of TRU waste drums, over packed in a standard waste box (SWB), and emplaced in the repository on May 28, 2008.  As a result, the EPA and the DOE Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) had mutually agreed to suspend shipments from LANL to the WIPP.   

The EPA conducted an initial inspection at LANL on June 25, 2008. On July 29, 2008, the EPA conducted a follow-up inspection at LANL regarding the events that led to the emplacement at the WIPP of the non-conformant drum. These inspections by EPA staff included the following:

Based on the documentation provided by the DOE and the EPA’s review of the events leading to the incorrect shipment of the drum from LANL, the Agency concurred with CBFO’s decision to resume shipment of LANL’s CH TRU waste except for most containers from the MIN-03 and CIN-02 solid waste streams on July 29, 2008.  These waste streams could be shipped after the EPA evaluates the CCP data center database used by LANL-CCP for screening compliant drums.

Below, you will find correspondence between the EPA and the DOE related to this incident.

In addition to the letters, the Agency received the information below from the DOE related to the LANL-CCP errant drum.


Magnesium Oxide (MgO) -- Planned Change Request

On April 10, 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a planned change request pertaining to the amount of MgO emplaced in the WIPP repository. MgO is an engineered barrier that DOE included as part of the original WIPP Certification Decision that ensures repository releases will be well-within the EPA's regulatory limits.

On February 11, 2008, the EPA issued it's final decision regarding the MgO Planned Change Request after reviewing all submitted information and public comments. The Agency's letter, along with supporting documentation, can be found below in Adobe .pdf format:

All current documentation related to this change request is available below, in Adobe .pdf format. Included in these documents are both the EPA's and DOE's public fact sheets for MgO. The DOE's fact sheet includes an in-depth background and history related to MgO, as well as the proposed change, rationale, and projected impact on WIPP performance. In conjunction, the EPA's fact sheet describes how the public can submit comments and stay up-to-date on future developments on this issue.

Fact Sheets
Correspondence:

EPA WIPP Project Plan

The EPA has created a anticipated project plan (updated February 2008) that outlines milestones and dates for some major WIPP activities through the next calendar year. This document, as well as a more detailed description of the items included in the project plan, are available for viewing/download below (Adobe .pdf format). Please note that this is only a projected schedule; therefore, any of this information is subject to change at any time.


Idaho National Laboratory TRU waste shipments temporarily suspended

On July 17, 2007, the EPA received written notification from the Department of Energy (DOE) that on June 26, the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) shipped a 55-gallon drum of transuranic (TRU) waste that had not been properly characterized and certified in accordance with EPA requirements to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for disposal. According to the DOE notification, the drum was mistakenly added to a group of TRU waste drums, packed, and shipped to WIPP, and, subsequently, emplaced in the repository.

The DOE reports that it has reviewed the data and information it has about the contents of the drum and has concluded that the waste in the drum is well within the bounds of the repository performance assessment requirements. According to the DOE notification, the data collected on this drum provides the basis for concluding that this drum has no detrimental impact upon the repository’s performance. The DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) also concludes that this situation has not created a condition that endangers human health or the environment.

The Department reports that TRU waste shipments from INL have been temporarily suspended. The EPA is working with the New Mexico Department of the Environment (NMED) and the DOE to evaluate the reported infractions and to implement corrective actions. The Agency will continue to assess the situation at the WIPP and INL-AMWTP and provide updates on actions and activities at both facilities related to this incident.

On August 7, 2007, the EPA conducted an inspection of AMWTP at INL in Idaho Falls, Idaho. During the inspection, the Agency will verify that AMWTP has adequately implemented corrective actions to address the packaging and disposal of the uncertified TRU waste drum that recently took place. Soon after AMWTP noticed the error, AMWTP/DOE-CBFO voluntarily suspended all future shipments of TRU waste to the WIPP for disposal. AMWTP developed corrective actions which CBFO approved and evaluated for implementation at AMWTP. The EPA, under authority from 40 CFR 194.24(c)(4), will verify adequacy of the corrective actions implemented at AMWTP before concurring with the CBFO's decision to allow the site to resume shipment of TRU waste to the WIPP for disposal. The EPA will provide the inspection results after completing the August 7, 2007, inspection.

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U.S. DOE Documents -- Karst Report (John C. Lorenz) and Magenta Transmissivity Fact Sheet

The EPA has recently received two documents from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The first is a report by John C. Lorenz of Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) that addresses the issue of Karst at the WIPP site. The second outlines DOE's investigations into Magenta Transmissivity. In response to stakeholder interest, we are posting them here for viewing/downloading purposes in Adobe .pdf format.


Final Baseline Decision -- Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Program (AMWTP) Waste Characterization Activities at Idaho National Laboratory (INL)/Central Characterization Project (CCP)

The EPA conducted a baseline inspection at INL-CCP the week of May 3, 2005. Under the newly-revised WIPP Compliance Criteria (40 CFR Part 194), the Agency announced the inspection on this web site and the WIPP-NEWS listserv. A Federal Register notice (September 9, 2005; 70 FR 53659) was also published, announcing the proposed approval of the waste characterization activities at INL-CCP. The FR notice outlined the EPA's draft baseline inspection report and summarized the inspection results, findings, and proposed tiering designations. A public comment period of 45 days was also opened on the draft inspection report and proposed approval.

After evaluating all public comments, the Agency has approved the disposal of TRU waste, as characterized by INL-CCP, according to the conditions outlined in our approval letter and final inspection report. The EPA will evaluation additions and changes to the INL-CCP waste characterization program according to the tiering requirements established in the inspection report. To view all documents related to this action, please click on the following link for EPA's EDOCKET created for this inspection:

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EPA Completeness Determination - Department of Energy's (DOE's) Compliance Recertification Application (CRA)

The EPA has determined that DOE's Compliance Recertification Application for WIPP is now complete. This completeness determination is an administrative step required under the WIPP Compliance Criteria (40 CFR Part 194). This determination indicates that the DOE has provided information relevant to each applicable provision of the WIPP Compliance Criteria and in sufficient detail for the EPA to proceed with a full technical review of the CRA.

In accordance with our requirements under the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act (LWA), the Agency will make its final recertification decision within six months of the date of its completeness determination. A Federal Register Notice documenting our decision was published on October 20, 2005. The comment period on the CRA will remain open for an additional 45 days until December 5, 2005. The letter transmitting our determination, as well as the Federal Register Notice, is posted below in Adobe .pdf format:

Prior to making our completeness determination, the DOE also submitted revised, summary information related to the WIPP's inventory and the performance assessment (PA). The EPA does not consider this information to be a completeness issue. However, since it is part of what we will be reviewing under our full technical evaluation, we are also making it available to the public:

Remember
Supplementary information on the these reports is also available. To request any of these files (hard copy or electronic), please send an e-mail to Ray Lee (lee.raymond@epa.gov).

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Public Meetings -- WIPP Recertification

The EPA recently held public meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 7, 2005. The purpose of the meetings was to provide a forum to discuss the Agency's recertification process and related issues or concerns from the public. Information on specific WIPP technical issues (e.g., performance assessment, waste inventory, karst), as well as details on our projected schedule & timeline for completeness and final recertification decision was provided to the public. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was also on hand to provide information on its Recertification Application.

Six fact sheets were developed on a number of WIPP topics for the meetings.
These fact sheets are available below:

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Idaho National Laboratories Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project Approval for Super-compacted (Compressed) Waste

The EPA performed an inspection in March 2005 to examine Idaho National Laboratories (INL)/Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project's (AMWTP) ability to characterize contact-handled (CH) transuranic (TRU) debris waste and super-compacted/compressed debris waste. The Agency recently issued its approval for INL/AMWTP to characterize and dispose of this waste at the WIPP. This approval is outlined in the following documents below:

Previously in March 2004, the EPA issued an approval for the overall concept that allowed the US Department of Energy (DOE) to dispose of super-compacted/compressed waste from INL/AMWTP. However, this approval also stated that waste characterization inspections at INL/AMWTP were required prior to the disposal of any super-compacted waste at the WIPP (hence, our recent March 2005 inspection). For more details on the original approval of the super-compacted/compressed waste concept, see EPA Approves DOE's Request to Dispose of Compressed Waste at WIPP below.

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Final Rule -- Alternative Provisions to 40 CFR Part 194

The EPA has finalized changes to the criteria used to determine whether the WIPP complies with the Agency's radioactive waste disposal standards. The final rule for this action was published in the Federal Register on July 16, 2004. An Adobe .pdf version of the rule can be found below:

Final Rule (PDF) (13 pp, 111 K)

These changes:
Based on extensive oversight experience with the WIPP, and after consideration of all public comments, the EPA is finalizing the following changes to the compliance criteria:

These updates ensure that the WIPP compliance criteria remain comprehensive and appropriate, based upon current knowledge and information. The new provisions maintain the current technical approach the EPA uses during its independent inspections to evaluate a site's waste characterization capabilities, and do not lessen the requirements the Department of Energy must meet to comply with Agency's radioactive waste disposal standards.

The proposed rule, entitled "Criteria for the Certification and Recertification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's Compliance with 40 CFR Part 191 Disposal Regulations; Alternative Provisions," was published in the Federal Register on August 9, 2002, which marked the beginning of a 120-day comment period. Public hearings were also held in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, on September 24-25, 2002. Background material supporting this final action (i.e., Technical Support Document, Response to Comments) is also available. Please refer to EPA's EDOCKET site for online .pdf versions of these documents.

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EPA Approval of DOE's Request to Dispose of Compressed Waste at WIPP

On March 26, 2004, the EPA approved the DOE’s request to allow disposal in WIPP of compressed waste from the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility at the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory site. The EPA’s evaluation of this request found that disposing of compressed waste in WIPP does not impact the long-term performance of the repository. As with other wastes, before allowing shipment for disposal at WIPP, the EPA will conduct an on-site inspection to evaluate the DOE’s ability to measure and track the contents of this type of waste.

What is Compressed TRU Waste?

This type of transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste is compressed using special equipment at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility within the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory (INEEL) site. The DOE designed this special equipment to compress standard 55-gallon drums of transuranic (TRU) waste and combine them into one waste package. Three to five of these compressed 55-gallon drums are placed in a 100-gallon shipping container that looks like a large 55-gallon drum Although more waste is concentrated into one container, a shipment of compressed waste contains less radioactivity than a comparable shipment of standard 55-gallon drums. This is accomplished by carefully managing the TRU wastes that are compressed and packaged together to meet the allowable shipping limits on radioactive containers for the WIPP.

Why does DOE want to compress waste?

In December 2002, the DOE requested the EPA’s approval to dispose of waste from this compression process in WIPP. By using this process, the Department intends to reduce the volume of TRU waste that is to be shipped from INEEL to the WIPP. By reducing the volume of waste, the DOE also expects to reduce the transportation costs associated with shipping the waste to the WIPP.

Is compressed waste different from the waste that already goes to WIPP?

The wastes before and after compression are classified as TRU waste, the only type of waste that is allowed to be disposed of at the WIPP. Although the compressed waste is still TRU waste, some of the non-radioactive properties of the compressed waste are different than the waste in the standard 55-gallon containers. For example, although the 100-gallon compressed waste containers have no more radioactivity than a standard 55-gallon container, a compressed waste drum may contains more cellulosic, plastic, and rubber material. Because of the these differences, the EPA conducted a thorough analysis of the DOE proposal requesting approval to dispose of compressed waste in the WIPP.

Why did EPA decide to allow this type of waste at WIPP?

Since December 2002, the EPA has been working hard to understand and evaluate the impact that compressed waste could have on the WIPP repository. The Agency’s analysis shows that having compressed waste in the WIPP repository does not impact the long-term safety and performance of the WIPP. The WIPP can safely contain regular and compressed waste.

When will this type of waste by shipped to WIPP?

Although the EPA has approved the DOE’s request to dispose of compressed waste in the WIPP, the Department cannot ship compressed waste until the EPA conducts inspections and approves the waste characterization and quality assurance programs of the waste compression process at INEEL. These inspections are conducted at all the sites that send waste to the WIPP. They ensure that the DOE knows enough about the waste that is going to the WIPP and that they can track the waste from shipment through emplacement in the repository.

The Agency does not expect to conduct an inspection of compressed waste activities until 2005. Compressed waste cannot be shipped to the WIPP until the EPA conducts its inspections. The EPA will announce the inspection schedule on this web site when the dates have been determined.

How much waste will be compressed?

The DOE plans to compress the waste of approximately 224,374 standard 55-gallon drums into 52,440 100-gallon drums. According to the DOE projections, the compressed waste will be approximately 11.8% of the total volume of contact-handled waste emplaced in the WIPP.

Compressing waste containers will allow the DOE to put more actual waste containers in the WIPP than the Department previously stated. However, the radioactivity of all the WIPP waste containers still cannot exceed the limit set by Congress in the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act.

Where can I get more information about compressed waste?

The EPA’s letter to the DOE approving the disposal of compressed waste from INEEL and the Agency’s supporting technical evaluation is available at any of our docket locations.

This documentation can also be downloaded in Adobe .pdf format below:

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EPA Issues Final Decision on Remote-Handled Transuranic (RH-TRU) Waste

The EPA has approved the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) general framework for characterizing remote-handled (RH) transuranic (TRU) waste. After an intensive and detailed review, the Agency has concluded that the RH Waste Characterization Program Implementation Plan (WCPIP) provides an adequate framework while giving waste generator sites the flexibility to develop site-specific programs for characterizing RH waste. We are issuing this decision after careful consideration of public comments, which came in response to our preliminary RH determination announced on this web site and in the WIPP Bulletin in December 2003.

This approval allows the DOE to proceed with developing site-specific characterization plans for RH waste. However, this approval does not authorize the Department to characterize or ship RH waste to the WIPP. In order to obtain this authorization, the DOE must first submit documentation specific to each of the waste generator sites to show the requirements in the WCPIP have been fully met. Each site must also be inspected and approved by the EPA to evaluate whether it is adequately implementing the site-specific RH waste characterization programs.

The EPA will make the site-specific waste characterization plans and inspection reports available in the WIPP dockets and on its web site. The web site and WIPP-NEWS e-mail service [link to WIPP-NEWS] will also announce opportunities for public comment on our waste characterization activities.

Please use the following links for more information on this decision:

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