Skip to comments.WIPP Updates
Posted on 02/28/2014 10:28:51 PM PST by logi_cal869
I just sent an email to someone outlining some 'odd things' about the WIPP 'radiological event'.
Most following it know the best sources (perhaps a bit fringe, but detail-oriented nevertheless) are:
https://www.radcast.org/updates-on-wipp/ and http://pissinontheroses.blogspot.com/
I'm avoiding speculation on radiation releases (for those that want to piss on my 'histrionics'), just noting some really large discrepancies in what's been released to-date, as it's a template for future radiological events.
Here is the base content of the email:
Sorry for the length. No way to condense this further as I have my own analysis below not really elaborated in the linked blogs.
First, on the "Exhaust System" at WIPP: That last email contained a couple of links about the site's systems, in particular the so-called 'exhaust system'.
The latest reports put the systems 'emergency response' at 30 seconds to a minute based on feedback from Continuous Airflow Measurement (CAM) sensors.
From this report dated March 3, 2011:
"Although EPA determined that NESHAP monitoring is not needed for disposal activities..."
NESHAP is National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants . Part H, as their voluntary MOU with EPA outlines, can be found here.
Recall, again, after reading that that EPA determined NESHAP monitoring is not needed for WIPP.
On the exhaust specifications:
The exhaust air from the underground facility is continually sampled at Station A, which is located approximately 21 feet, or 1½ shaft diameters, below ground level in the exhaust shaft (see Fig. 1).That's a 14-foot diameter exhaust stack. I'll come back to that.
The nominal velocities of the return air in the upper exhaust shaft are 2.0 m/s, 8.6 m/s, and 13.3 m/s to 17.9 m/s for the filtration, alternate, and normal ventilation modes, respectively (, Section 2.1)I calculated that's 255 cubic meters/second. If the release was 30 seconds flat, that's 7650 cubic meters of air expelled before filtration kicked in.
(1) The DOE WIPP site released a Plutonium Cloud on Valentine's Day which we calculate to have been 330,000,000 Becquerel in size, released over an approximate 30 second period in an estimated 10,000 cubic meters of air. All of which rapidly shot Northwest towards Denver. We also see a significant risk of additional explosions and more significant releases (see more info below)(Ok. That's an error rate that's not 'huge', but I think they were calculating based on volume from a different source. You have my source above (also here). I think the 2 numbers are close enough. Basically they're asserting WIPP's exhaust ventilation rates 20,000 cubic meters/minute, or 25% more than my results. If that data exists elsewhere, I didn't find it. Even if we conservatively estimated a 25% Error in their calculations, it still pales, you know?)
What's now asserted is that the exhaust didn't switch to filtration mode in 30 seconds, but between 5-20 minutes based on 'reliable source inside'.
Based on the new information, and the historically credible nature of the provider, we are revising the Plutonium release event time estimate to have occurred over a period of 5 to 20 minutes (if not longer). This means that the volumetric size of the Plutonium Cloud was 10 to maybe 100 TIMES larger than previously calculated. We will follow up with calculations in the near future.Worse, the press conference yesterday had Farok Sharif, Project Manager for the Nuclear Waste Partnership (the contractor that operates the site) speaking of "The Recovery Plan" (starting at 1:40 here):
"...this is the scaffolding we have set up...The first thing that we want to do is to stabilize the mine ventilation system...we actually built mockups before they showed up onsite, to make sure that once we establish this that the facility is going to work..."That statement should be a very big red flag, ya know? The only reason to 'stabilize the ventilation system' is if it could have been damaged. It could only have been damaged from an explosion. An explosive event might have prevented the automated system from going into 'filtration mode' immediately in 'real time', just like the 'inside source' asserts. Explosive how? Well, the type of 'transuranic waste' deposited at WIPP is similar to what's in the tanks at Hanford and can, potentially, product hydrogen & methane, just as the tanks at Hanford have (they've 'burped' before; I just can't imagine they didn't think of this at WIPP before presuming, of course, that's what happened. IMHO, it's the only thing that explains the concentrations of airborne particles).
On the "contaminated workers":
From a WIPP news release via CNN:
"An air monitor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant detected the spike in an isolated area half a mile below the ground."That's interesting, as the only air monitors I find details on are the 3 CAMS at the exhaust port, at Station A, 21 feet from the exhaust port exit.
Regarding 'radiological releases' and 'human contamination, originally the news releases from WIPP outlined the day FOLLOWING the 'event' as follows:
"Department of Energy Officials said that all non-essential personnel were allowed to return home this evening after radioactive tests resulted in the employees testing negative for contamination."By the 28th, 'biological assay' tests were finally returned:
"Employees present the night of the event were checked for any external contamination before being allowed to leave the site. The sites Radiological Control Program collected biological samples from each employee to check for possible exposure from inhaling airborne radioactive particles.The bakers dozen tested positive in that test, a bioassay. A bioassay of this type is a radiological assessment of internal exposure to radioactive materials. They are taken when contamination from outside the body is suspected to have been inhaled or ingested."
Recall the 'night of the event' refers to the evening of the 14th/early morning of the 15th. The 'initial tests' were returned from the lab today, the 28th. Well, gee...there are testing standards for 'Bio-assay' tests. See here and here and here (these papers from Idaho State University on Radiation Safety and Training are based on the same regs that bind WIPP)
"A bioassay is required whenever personal contamination or injury caused by a contaminated object occurs, or if airborne radioactivity may have been inhaled"
"The optimum time for performing a bioassay is within a few days after a potential exposure."
Well, they must have felt something much more serious than what they were dishing out to the public must have happened to have what can only be defined as 'an abundance of caution' to perform a bio-assay the SAME DAY as the incident. Read "SERIOUS RADIOLOGICAL EVENT" endangering workers (public be damned). As for the lab tests themselves:
"Laboratory testing may also be performed to determine if radioactive materials have been absorbed, ingested, or inhaled. This typically involves collecting samples of urine (and sometimes blood); it can determine the presence of a particular radioisotope, the unstable, radioactive form of an element such as iodine-131, and can be helpful in making treatment decisions. In addition, laboratories can perform tests that would detect any biological effects from exposure, such as a drop in the number of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets) or abnormalities in chromosomes, which would be useful in assessing short- or long-term damage from radiation. Currently, few laboratories are certified to test human samples for radioactive atoms or nuclides (radionuclides); they include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a few public health laboratories, and one reference laboratory. In addition, only a few types of radionuclides can be identified with current testing methods. However, the CDC is in the process of developing a new urine test to determine whether a person has radionuclides in their body and, if so, what type and how much is present. Results from the test would help to identify those exposed, evaluate their risk of complications from the exposure, and help make treatment decisions. The goal of CDC's program, called Urine Radionuclide Screen (URS), is to have the capability to detect and measure at least 20 different radio-nuclides that are considered to be high-priority and to provide results in 24 hours rather than the current 2-3 days."(You might also want to take a gander at this report, "Baseline Measurements of Internally Deposited Radionuclides in the U.S. Population"...it exposes the fact that no reliable technique yet existed in 2006 to measure levels of ingested/inhaled radiological contamination,
"High quality urinary excretion and blood assay data on plutonium and uranium do not exist for the general U.S. population. Moreover, classical bioassay monitoring programs within the U.S. lack the necessary isotope detection sensitivity to even comply with the latest U.S. Department of Energy implementation of federal regulation 10CFR 835 for in vitro bioassay monitoring of plutonium."...I can't find that these tests yet exist.)
Didja catch that? First off, the CDC's test, "Urine Radionuclide Screen" is not developed yet. The passage above asserts that a radiological urinalysis 'bioassay' can be performed in 2-3 days....
...it took them FOURTEEN DAYS to notify the public that the workers had received internal contamination. Did the workers get their notifications in 2-3 days, or not? That's presuming it was just a 'urine test', which doesn't jive with the links above for bioassay testing for plutonium contamination, unless they were just 'going through the motions' for the workers. There are only 2 labs that can perform "Cytogenetic Biodosimetry": Oak Ridge National Laboratory & Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. Invasive bioassay can include swab from the airway or blood sample, as I understand it. Just in case I got it wrong, I found this : (snippet of Table on page 4)
Time for Analysis
Estimate cost per sample
cytogenetics (i.e., 20-50 metaphase triage; 1000
And a bunch of science on making Cytogenetic Biodosimetry more efficient for testing population in the event of a mass-casualty nuclear event. Net result on the 'Contaminated Workers':
Why the additional delay to notifying the public of the results of testing that is asserted to take only 2-3 days?
Final statement: "The public is safe."
Latest 'news' prior to today (source...not high on my list as being 'unbiased')
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/us/nuclear-waste-repository-set-to-reopen-after-leak.html?_r=3 Latest 2/28:
Onsite and nearfield tests returnedFrom RSOE EDIS - Emergency and Disaster Information Service, this is the listing of information provided on the 'event':
And the absolutely latest just before I hit 'send':
I searched and the last post I found on WIPP was from the 21st with WIPP as a keyword and title. I'm providing this as data to those who care to have heads above the sand, so-to-speak...I can't rightly say this post is 'news', so it's in chat.
Collected all I could found on this subject. Does not look good: http://justpaste.it/ejs9
Watching the meeting was painful; reading the transcript of the QnA is almost frightening. Also for what it's worth, there's a comment by one of the site folks that put the ventilation system flow rate at 425,000 cubic feet/minute, which converts to just over 12,000 cubic meters/minute, so prior analysis is just a bit skewed since POTR blog is using the 20,000 cubic meter/minute figure (no idea where they got that data).
As well, there's a comment about the type of waste being stored at WIPP; it will be interesting to see if this is verified, as it could genuinely fit the pieces for the chain of events that led to the radiation release (which I theorize might have been hydrogen explosion, ceiling collapse, radiation release). It's been documented that the designated stored/buried waste at Los Alamos (the same waste they feared for during the wildfires there) was dug up sent to WIPP already.
Oh, and in case you missed it:
Los Alamos National Laboratory Develops Quick to WIPP Strategy, dated February 23, 2003:
An analysis of the 9,100 cubic meters of stored CH-TRU waste revealed that 400 cubic meters or 4.5% of the inventory represented 61% of the risk. The analysis further showed that this 400 cubic meters was contained in only 2,000 drums.Note: They refer to these 2000 drums as high-wattage.
These facts and the question How can the disposition of this waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) be accelerated? formed the genesis of LANLs Quick to WIPP initiative.
The solution is found in a change in the methodology used to the meet the NRC 5% limitation. Specifically it includes the following.Oh, I'm sure there will still be doubting-thomases out there about hydrogen-producing waste drums at WIPP. From the document above:
1) Once the drums are loaded into the inner confinement vessel (ICV) of the TRUPACTII and the ICV is sealed a vacuum is applied. Since each drum is vented the vacuum is in turn applied to the drums themselves. This purges the drums of most of the hydrogen that have accumulated during storage and air allowing an initial flammable gas concentration approaching zero.
2) The ICV and accordingly the drums themselves are then backfilled with nitrogen, an inert gas. This is an added safety measure for which formal credit is not taken.
3) The 5-day clock starts upon completion of the vacuum process. Twenty-four hours are allowed for the backfilling of the ICV, leak testing, and handling of the loaded TRUPACT-IIs. Two days are then allowed for transit from LANL to WIPP and finally twenty-four hours are allowed for venting of the ICV and accordingly the drums upon arrival at WIPP. An extra twenty-four hours are included as a margin of safety. This allows only five days for flammable gas accumulation versus the 60 days currently allowed.
8) The first of the 2,000 Quick to WIPP drums were successfully shipped from LANL to WIPP in December 2002. Plans call for all 2,000 drums to have been shipped by the end of fiscal year 2004.The real question is whether or not the vented waste drums were placed within WIPP inside or removed from their TRUPACT-II inner containment vessel (ICV) and how WIPP was designed to mitigate flammable/explosive gas. Some (or most) of those drums have been in the sealed panels for at least 10 years, many generating hydrogen...
Thanks for that link. Ironically, I found it also at NETC forum. And I thought it was only me that noticed all the NETC detectors going off east of Texas (correction: STILL going off)...
Yes, they’re all Gamma-based, but they seem to be reacting to something, and the isotopes alleged to be released seem to fit the bill. Ironically, it was a malfunctioning detector in Evansville, IN that got my attention, as I periodically go there to see ‘trends’.
You’d think somewhere out there there’s a forum where people are posting their Alpha readings; I can’t find it.
Also, the latest seems to indicate that the filters didn’t kick in at WIPP for 33 minutes:
Interview with WIPP expert Don Hancock of Southwest Research and Information Center, Nuclear Hotseat with Libbe HaLevy, Mar. 4, 2014:
"Hancock: They still have amounts of radiation that theyre reading in the underground at WIPP. The DoE is saying that the filter system is 99.97% effective. We dont know that thats true because we dont have laboratory results back, how much radioactivity those filters are actually catching. We are a long way from having all the sampling we need in the above ground to know how much is out. We can presume that minute amounts can still be coming out through the filter system even if the filter system is working perfectly. The filter system doesnt work 100% perfect 99.97%, if it is working that well is good, but that means theres 0.03% that is getting out. So it will be a continuing problem until all of the contamination, both underground and above ground is cleaned up. [...] Its a continuing potential threat to people for a long time to come.
Hancock (at 3:00 in): Apparently every single worker on the site when the alarm was triggered late night on Valentines Day Feb. 14 received internal dose [ ] confirmed internal radiation. So that bodes the possibility of some serious health consequences.
Hancock (at 11:00 in): The government has not been accurate in what it has said [ .] The information flow has been bad. I know of nobody that thinks the information flow has been good. I was just on the phone in the last half hour with the New Mexico secretary of the environment department, the state official who is most responsible for the States activities at the WIPP site, and he was saying he is still totally unsatisfied with the lack of information the DoE is giving him and his regulatory agency not to mention the further lack of information that the public is getting.
Note: The NMED Secretary is Ryan Flynn, fwiw, only confirmed for the job Feb. 18 of this year. As well, the reason that lab tests aren't back from the filter samples is that workers were not permitted to collect the filters for 2 weeks (no contingency plan in the event of a radiation emergency to collect WIPP underground samples for radionuclide isotope identification).
Any why haven't they sent in a drone yet to see what damage they're dealing with? TEPCO got more heat over their slow response than this.
Can it possibly be because this project got Bama's ARRA 'Recovery Act' monies and was cited among the stats "jobs saved or created"? (I have saved those files. If anyone needs that citation, Freep mail me)
I'm also going to remind that this site (WIPP) was being groomed for storing high-level nuclear waste (spent fuel rod casks...I have all those links & files, too) just late this last year and that one of Bama's 'noted accomplishments' was cancelling Yucca Mountain, another Law that the administration chose to not be held to...though that's been challenged...
Oh, and not that it means anything, but NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn is a 2001 graduate of Harvard University, is a lawyer and has no background in environment, save for his work experience noted here:
Prior to becoming Cabinet Secretary, Flynn served as the Environment Departments General Counsel and Legislative Coordinator. Before joining the Environment Department, Flynn worked for the Modrall Sperling law firm. At Modrall Sperling, he worked in the firms Commercial Litigation and Renewable Energy practice groupsSo, between DOE and Attorney Flynn, the residents of New Mexico are 'well-covered' (/s). Note also that some of the contaminated workers were 'union' and the Union isn't getting any answers either; how this plays out should be interesting, so say the least...
It's really quite the piece of propaganda. Anyone doubting how much money is at stake if WIPP is permanently shuttered should use their own time to research. For the record, the contributor to the Forbes article above is a staunch pro-nuclear Cap & Trade 'climate alarmist', 'radiation-is-safe-for-you' propaganda shill and last year called Vermont citizens 'stupid' for shuttering Yankee Nuclear Plant after >40 years of operation (BWR-4 Reactor/MK-I Containment, same design as Fukushima's Units 2, 3, 4 & 5).
Also, by the way, James Conca lists CEMRC (Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center) as his former post as Director...that's the same outfit charged with maintaining/sampling the radiation monitors around WIPP.
(nothing to see here...Conca's just coming out swinging in defense of WIPP just because...) /s
Department officials said Wednesday afternoon that despite many unknowns, the employees are unlikely to experience any adverse health effects.Ok. Good news if it's true. But take a look at the test results from the so-called 'filters' in this report:
and weigh those numbers with the cherry-picked & muted measurements and anti-histrionic propaganda statements such as,
The amount of radiation released into the environment was a million times less than any EPA action levels, but to hear the outcry youd think it was Chernobyl.According to this, the author cites filters removed 2/16 as having
"According to CEMRC, the measured levels were more than 50 times less than the EPA action level of 37 Bq (0.001 microcurie)."50 times less"? Really? Go back and look at the chart image. That equates to a level of 0.74 Bq. Which sample are they referring to? Note: Completely ignoring the first samples which bracket the "unfiltered release" period of the Exhaust Vent. Of course, this presumes I'm not totally confused as to the measured radiation vs. EPA 'action levels'. It could be referring to the Pu239 level of .63 Bq. But what of the level on the filter removed on the 15th? You know, if my prior statement was accurate, the level that's almost 1000 times the EPA Action Level?
The obfuscation ongoing on this 'WIPP Radiation-event' is incredible.
Update 2: At least one blogger concurs with my assertion that the radiation was released by more than just a 'ceiling collapse'.
There's also a serious assertion that the 'Exhaust Filtration' did not kick in either within 39 seconds nor automatically.
As a footnote: I sincerely hope all the obfuscation is much-ado-about-nothing, that the employees genuinely tested 'negative' and the levels are what the public has been told. But the pattern is all-to-familiar and I have federal documents that outline 'paying off residents' to get sites like this installed, that States 'have no rights to dictate safety (such as closing sites/plants when safety is suspect) and 'pacifying the population' in the event of an 'incident'. My boy's in the 'shadow'; I, for one, give a damn.
The readings between A & B stations are telling, as they indicated a much LONGER interval of 'unfiltered exhaust air' than the alleged 30 seconds, on which they make their basis arguments for 'no effect on health' (specifically, note the fact that the highest reading at Station B is the SECOND sample that morning, hours after HEPA was supposed to kick in).
One thought: Following the Radiological Incident and the quite rapid realization that no worker personnel were underground, why the hell didn't they shut off the ventilation system???
This might be why (check out Figure 3-2). Just wondering out loud if it isn't such a good idea to pack all that 'trans-uranic lab waste' in those Panels as tightly as pictured, waste described as:
Basically just trash from weapons complex work including discarded PPE or cleanup activitiesI can't find a single reference to a technical reason why the ventilation system wasn't shut off 'in the unlikely event of an underground radioactive release'.
In case anyone is curious, here are the technical specs of the WIPP Ventilation System & its operation.
In the unlikely event of an underground radioactive release, the ventilation system is either automatically or manually shifted to a filtration mode. The airflow demand during filtration mode decreases to 28m³/s (60,000 cfm). The shift consists of the main fans being turned off and one of the three 175 kW (235 hp) centrifugal standby filtration fans started. A series of isolation dampers diverts the air through the filtration system where the air is routed through a series of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
See here, from 2/5/2014:
WIPP immediately discontinued all operations, including the receipts of nuclear waste from cleanup sites around the country, and no timetable has been set for re-entry into the underground.Maybe someone can go ask why they didn't shut off the power to the ventilation system once they realized it was venting something a bit more dangerous than smoke this time...
Power to the underground ventilation system was suspended and remains shut off. All shipments headed to WIPP have been halted, Nelson said.
(U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Roger Nelson)
I had found the report after my last post & downloaded the file (slow download) but didn't read it yet.
The bottom line is the only public explanation WIPP's operators give for running the ventilation system 24/7 is for 'diesel engine operation' (venting fumes & Carbon Monoxide).
However, anyone familiar with the waste storage knows that the waste drums are 'vented' as a percentage of the waste does generate explosive gases. Not sure how they planned to mitigate that, as it's impossible to find that discussion in any engineering documents as far back as the '90s. It's fairly common knowledge that salt behaves like a plastic and can trap at least Methane & Helium, but that's under natural processes in a salt formation, not in a nuclear waste panel sealed off manually post-mining. It seems logical that the ventilation system serves a secondary purpose to vent explosive methane & hydrogen as byproducts of the stored waste. It also seems logical that a closed bulkhead would trap the gases.
It's all a bit moot, though, as a salt cavern cannot be decontaminated. Publicly they keep talking up 'how important WIPP is' but there's no way workers can safely work in that mine now, sans maybe stuffing the last of the shipped waste currently being stored in the open due to the fact the en-route shipments have continued to arrive at the facility. They might be able to accomplish that in full protective gear, but the facility is contaminated.
I think the taxpaying public deserves to know what to expect and why they refuse to own up to the reality.
One more thing: Everyone defending WIPP says the waste is 'just gloves & trash' & 'byproducts of lab work' and is 'safe to store'. Environment Department Fines WIPP $2.4 Million for Waste Analysis Failure, Requests More information on Improperly Disposed Waste. Uh-huh:
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) today (August 31, 2004) issued a compliance order to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for violations of state hazardous waste management regulations carrying a total civil penalty of $2,397,450. These violations concern shipments of radioactive waste from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) between March and July of this year.Maybe someone else can find data on this; I can't. Best I can find without accessing WIPP's database is that these 107 drums are still in the ground, in sealed panel. I did find this NMED Administrative Compliance Order, Nov. 26, 2007, which I believe might be the final compliance order on the above matter. Interestingly, completely destroying the lie that 'no liquid waste' is stored at WIPP:
These shipments of mixed waste from INEELs Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project contained 107 drums that had not undergone the proper testing to ensure that they were eligible and safe for WIPP disposal.
NMEDs Compliance Order also requires DOE to submit to NMED a plan for removing this untested waste from the repository and a technical justification demonstrating that all 107 drums pose no elevated risk to human health and the environment. Both of these documents have a 30-day deadline.
After a careful analysis of the existing information on this waste, we have decided to not order it removed from WIPP at this time, said Secretary Curry. This decision involved several factors including the safety of WIPPs workers and the best use of taxpayers money. However, we will not grant DOE final approval on disposal of these 107 drums until the reports are received from DOE and carefully reviewed.
13. Permit Condition II.C.3.a states, "Liquids - liquid waste is not acceptable at WIPP. Waste shall contain as little residual liquid as is reasonably achievable by pouring, Page 3 of 35 pumping and/or aspirating, and internal containers shall contain less than 1 inch or 2.5 centimeters of liquid in the bottom of the container. Total residual liquid in any payload container (e.g., 55-gallon drum, standard waste box, etc.) may not exceed 1 percent volume of that container."and
The memo states that although RTR has identified a few drums with containerized liquids, AK indicated containerized liquids were not expected in waste stream LA-MIN03-NC.OO1. It also states that "it is Page 12 of 35 unknown if any containerized liquids were embedded in" the 122 drums that were certified by VE in lieu of RTR and emplaced at WIPP because the VEE "looked at only the top of the waste form."I find nothing in this Compliance Order that stipulates the 107 drums were removed. Never mind the fact that the above Compliance Order now cites 121 drums...
There ARE drums in WIPP's panels containing components of waste capable of generating explosive gases. That's a fact.
The net conclusion being that their system wasn't designed to accurately determine 'release', but mine concentrations. Read for yourself above.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has released a report on the 2 February WIPP 'events'.
Here's a direct link to download the 'letter':
As result of its initial assessment, the Board wrote to the Secretary of Energy on March 12, 2014, pointing out that the ventilation system is not a designated safety system and has not been operated, maintained, and protected consistent with its current function to guard against further release of radioactive material from the mine.and
For example, neither the filtered ventilation system nor the underground air monitor that triggered the ventilation system to switch to filtered mode is a credited safety system. In fact, for six days after the fire, no underground air monitors were operational. Had there been a failure on February 14 of the air monitor or filtered ventilation system, or if the release event had occurred three days earlier, the release of radioactive material from the aboveground mine exhaust would have been orders of magnitude larger. Until the cause of the radiation release is fully understood, these systems represent a real vulnerability to continued operations in the underground. DOE will need to upgrade the safety basis, engineered safety systems, and key safety management programs to support future waste disposal operations at WJPP. In accordance with DOE's safety directives, a formal Operational Readiness Review will also be required before waste disposal resumes.Wow. The statement, "improve the performance and reliability of the filtered ventilation system" has broad implications for local residents. DOE/WIPP contractor has repeatedly stated it's operating at 99.9% efficiency and that they've 'sealed other potential release areas with foam' (/s)...
To ensure that the ongoing recovery actions proceed safely, DOE and the WIPP contractor need to continue key, conservative actions that reduce the likelihood and mitigate the potential consequences of another event. These actions include the ongoing efforts to improve the performance and reliability of the filtered ventilation system; execution of the Unreviewed Safety Question process in accordance with 10 CFR Part 830, Nuclear Safety Management, to understand the safety basis implications of the radiological event, including conservative identification of compensatory measures; interim improvements in WIPP's emergency management capabilities for a subsequent event; enhanced oversight by DOE headquarters personnel; and near-tenn action to address the Judgments of Need identified by DOE's Accident Investigation Board.
"Judgments of Need". Hmmm...first time I've seen that referenced anywhere. Maybe when I have more time I can track that down. As a footnote here, Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway and the Department of Energy will co-host a meeting with updates on WIPP recovery every Thursday beginning March 27th.
What that means for new info, who knows; but there will be a weekly cycle for what they 'want' to release now until the 'event' is over (obviously it's not, or there wouldn't be a weekly meeting, now would there?).
Just a tag re comments I’ve seen elsewhere ‘surprised’ at hearing the salt mine isn’t wet, let alone the fact they built it on top of a brine deposit anyway:
The Wet Repository
Evaluation of Long-term Integrity of WIPP (1997)
The team will wear protective clothing and use self-contained breathing devices in a mission designed to determine the cause of the February 14 accident.Just noting the fact they still haven't turned off the ventilation system.
Oh, and can't ignore:
Testing of surface air in and around the Energy Department complex has shown elevated levels of radiation since the mishap, but those have steadily decreased. None reached concentrations considered harmful to human health or the environment, Bugger said.Because inhaling and getting lodged in your lung tissue 'hot plutonium particles' and who-knows-what is good for you... They're supposed to reenter around April 1st.
April Fools! It's safe! /s
Meanwhile, New Mexico's senators want answers about why legally required inspections for WIPP weren't performed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.DOE & EPA setting up air monitoring stations & sampling soil & vegetation:
NM senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich sent a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez Thursday asking for a written report on why MSHA hadn't performed the legally required inspections at WIPP.
The information about missed safety inspections was revealed in the Department of Energy's accident report on the Feb. 5 fire at WIPP. By law, MSHA is required to inspect WIPP four times a year. The accident report said the inspections had been performed twice in the last three years.
the DOE said it will expand its environmental monitoring to 10 more stations that will test air, soil and vegetation around Hobbs, Artesia, Loving, Eunice and other nearby communities. To date, samples taken around Carlsbad have shown only radiation levels well below those deemed unsafe.and EPA deploying mobile air monitors
But I thought the levels were dropping and what was released was 'below levels' concerning human health????
The Environmental Protection Agency will deploy mobile environmental monitoring units to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, according to a news release by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.The Senators are playing both sides of the fence well, aren't they?
The Senators asked for the additional air monitors in a Feb. 27 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The monitors will conduct independent tests and help respond to questions about environmental safety, the news release said.
"It's critical to ensure the public has access to accurate, timely information about health and safety while the recovery efforts at WIPP continues," the news release said. "As a public health agency, the EPA can provide independent monitoring and analysis about the safety of the air at WIPP and in the Carlsbad community."
The Senators said they believe the monitors will prove the radiation releases from WIPP are not a danger to public health.
WIPP Plutonium Release Initially Unfiltered & HEPA System Was MANUALLY Started, Resulting In Human Contamination
DOE releases scathing report on WIPP leak
DOE Issues WIPP Radiological Release Investigation Report
DOE Report - Phase I
Govt Report: Green burst seen at WIPP utility yard just minutes before radiation event began Popping noise heard by facility manager investigating incident
The link above is citing page 12 of the DOE report...
Ok. If anyone has been following this, the prior reports by WIPP staff of “stabilizing” the exhaust stacks wasn’t due to an explosion, but to ‘stabilize the filtration’, as they discovered it wasn’t trapping all the air. They sent in workers to install foam to seal up the filters that weren’t operating as efficiently as the DOE asserted (they asserted 99-99.9%).
We also know that the exhaust wasn’t switched over as they asserted (I’m not going to summarize ad nauseam here; just look at the prior post).
Anyway, now the details of eyewitnesses are coming out. One being the “Green Burst” over the substation which, oddly, is placed adjacent to the exhaust stack).
The POTR blog is still asserting the release was ‘exothermic’, causing a problem for the CAMs in the mine, whose air intakes are only 5-6 feet off the floor with 12 foot ceilings. They may be right, but there’s no cause found (or released) by WIPP yet. I still believe it may be a combination of explosion (hydrogen) and some exothermic event, as they definitely did not find evidence of a mine cave-in. So ‘something’ was responsible for making airborne so much radioactive material. A hydrogen explosion fits the bill.
Just wanna state again that I find no technical reason for why they just didn’t ‘shut off’ the mine ventilation system the moment they detected radiation (ya know, nobody in the mine to be supplying fresh air for to compromise topside safety).
Also want to state for the record again that the WIPP incident has brought back to the forefront of the memories of those in the US how our government will respond to emergencies much more serious (Fukushima-like) and that all the people out there (some even here at FR) biased as such will tell us that breathing in hot particles that ‘dose’ at safe rates is still ‘ok’.
Also want to restate for the record that I was historically pro-nuclear. The more I find out about the US civilian nuclear industry and the management thereof by our government (balanced with all the secrets of TMI, Hanford and others, along with the intransigence of moving to something safer and 3 years post-Fukushima not even tabling a plan to replace similar reactors stateside)...I’m finding myself more & more on the other side.
I’ll keep following this, and updating, even though I think this thread is long forgotten (don’t tell me WIPP hasn’t been in the news.../s).
Update from the 5/8 ‘Town Hall’ held by WIPP contractor in Carlsbad:
They’ve identified a LANL waste stream that seems to contain ‘nitrate salts’ and organics that may have vented and caused the event. However, they have NOT formed a strategy nor a cause of action for identifying and removing the specific drum to find out what happened. There appears to be many questions about a number of ‘high-activity drums’ that, on LANL’s website, state they were ‘unvented’ despite all the official statements about every container being shipped to WIPP required to be vented. The answer re the story on LANL’s website below
was, “I’ll have to go look at that” and other generalities.
Bottom line: They know nothing. They’re also asserting they can ‘decontaminate’ the mine to restore operations. They’re also talking seriously that, if it’s ‘just one drum’ about leaving it in place, sealing Panel 7 and restoring shipment operations for storage/disposal.
They’re still looking at it, investigating...but they’re also formulating a ‘move forward strategy’ without adequate information to address community concerns.
Just fyi. I’ll post a link if someone writes a better story than my generalized summary.
The Town Hall link is here, fwiw
There is no index I’ve yet seen for the town hall vids. However, you can view prior town hall vids by changing the end number (9, in this case) to bring up a prior town hall. #8, for example, was the 5/1 town hall...
Gawd...”green kitty litter” is what they’re blaming it on (theory)
“Scientists” that designated using kitty litter for its properties in stabilizing some wastes didn’t notify Purchasing that a mitigation component of nuclear safety shouldn’t be changed without consulting them?
This is similar to some idiot substituting G5 bolts for G8 awhile back on helicopters.
The question, then: What else is in the barrels that they neither were informed of nor tested for?
What of the barrels of waste in the TRUpacks sitting on trucks in the sun? Drying out? Ya think?
Well, well, well...
The waste stream extends to Texas
Only 2 of 57 improperly-packed waste drums from LANL are underground in WIPP; the rest are believed to be above ground in temporary storage at an unnamed site in Texas and above ground at WIPP. NM has given WIPP 2 days to submit a plan to locate & secure the remaining 55 drums.
Note: The article does not state the NM order is to ‘locate’; that is my language. The article specifically states:
“...many of which are likely stored outdoors on the lab’s northern New Mexico campus or at temporary site in west Texas...”
“According to the order, two of those containers are known to be at WIPP. It doesn’t say where the rest of the barrels are, but Los Alamos was in the process of transferring the last of thousands of barrels of waste from decades of nuclear bomb making to the underground dump when the leak shuttered the half-mile-deep mine.
Some containers were then transferred to temporary storage at a commercial nuclear waste dump in Andrews, Texas. But all shipments were stopped when investigators earlier this month zeroed in on the Los Alamos container as the likely source of the leak.”
Well, now...I thought it was ‘only’ 57 drums
“New Mexico: 500 barrels of questionable nuke waste”
” New Mexico environment officials say more than 500 barrels of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory was packed with the kitty litter suspected of causing a chemical reaction and radiation release at the nation’s underground nuclear waste dump.”
Updates on the disposition of all the ‘green kitty litter drums’, as well as NM ordering WIPP to seal the suspect panels and basically entomb the problem containers.
I’m just appalled that it’s asserted that normal operations can resume after such a move
The problem I have with Conca at this point is that he’s doubling down on the idea that sealing the panels is a solution “to enable continued operations”.
Can someone please explain how a salt mine is decontaminated of radiation? Conca hasn’t. I’d love to hear about it.../s
57 at-risk drums still at LANL being stored in tents
“On 19 May, the NMED told the DOE and the LANL that they had two days to present a plan to secure the drums. In their response on 21 May, the LANL and the DOE said that the drums were being transferred to a tent fitted with fire-control and high-efficiency particulate air filtration to contain any radioactive particles in the event of an accident. They added that air radiation levels and the temperature of the drums were being monitored, and that the drums were being inspected hourly for signs of rupture.”
Just can’t make this crap up...
This article brings attention to the culture at LANL, the apparent origin of this seemingly ‘isolated problem...attention that’s well-deserved, imho.
Senate bill allots $102 million for WIPP recovery efforts
My read: WIPP Cleanup will cost a MULTIPLE of the initial amount of $102 million
They still have no plan on how to make a SALT mine surface-contaminated with hot particles safe for workers, let alone make assurances that the public is safe from further ‘kitty litter events’.
But IT’S ALL GOOD: Sen Udall, D NM, is on the case, ensuring WIPP’s reopening.
I don’t know how long I can continue updating on this farce. Nobody cares. Even FReeper nuclear apologists don’t bother trolling comments anymore to preach their banana-rad propaganda.
With the southern border being completely overrun, the IRS out of control and all the other BS goings-on, this may have very well faded into the memory hole...much like Fukushima’s effect on the West Coast (on which the jury is STILL out)...
I have only one final series of thoughts after watching IRS Koskinen pompously berate Congress:
1. Nobody has duplicated the ‘organic kitty litter’ theory.
2. Nobody has chemically-proven it either
3. No samples have been returned to posit drum content results from EITHER WIPP drums, or any other drums in Texas or anywhere else.
4. No WIPP recovery plan has been put forth nor has been approved by DOE
5. No investigation has been revealed, nor results thereof, of how the dangerous decision to switch drum contents came to be, let alone assign responsibility.
6. After reading this whole post and my last 5 points, they’re still balls-to-the-wall to shove ALL the pending waste shipments into WIPP, to include digging a NEW exhaust shaft (basically asserting they will do ANYTHING to continue with the WIPP plan, safety of the 30 year-old infrastructure be damned).
Feel better? /s
They still don’t know what caused the reaction in the drum(s)
Those drums were sealed with limited oxygen. I’ve still seen no explanation for why oxidizers were contained in the waste drums. Sorta dumb...
The nuclear waste material itself was nitrate salts. The organic material was added in processing and packaging the waste and comes from two sources. One was the use of cat litter added as a sorbent. Formerly a clay material, at some point Los Alamos National Laboratory changed to a cellulose material.
The other was neutralizers added to adjust the pH of the material. According to a document by contractor EnergySolutions, this is what went into the drums:
Prior to September, 2013: Chemtex Acid Neutralizer, dry formula; contains polymer, sodium carbonate, alizarin (pH indicator)
After September, 2013: Spilfyter Kolorsafe Acid Neutralizer, liquid formula; contains triethanolamine, alizarin, water
Before April, 2013: Spilfyter Kolorsafe Benchtop Kits; contains citric acid, thymol blue (pH indicator); MSDS notes that the material is incompatible with metallic nitrates and strong oxidizers
After April, 2013: Pig Base Encapsulating Neutralizer, dry formula; contains citric acid, super absorbent, thymol; MSDS notes that the material is incompatible with metallic nitrates and strong oxidizers
A 55-gallon drum of nuclear waste, buried in a salt shaft 2,150 feet under the New Mexico desert, violently erupted late on Feb. 14 and spewed mounds of radioactive white foam.
The flowing mass, looking like whipped cream but laced with plutonium, went airborne, traveled up a ventilation duct to the surface and delivered low-level radiation doses to 21 workers.
The accident contaminated the nation's only dump for nuclear weapons waste previously a focus of pride for the Energy Department and gave the nation's elite ranks of nuclear chemists a mystery they still cannot unravel.
Six months after the accident, the exact chemical reaction that caused the drum to burst is still not understood. Indeed, the Energy Department has been unable to precisely identify the chemical composition of the waste in the drum, a serious error in a handling process that requires careful documentation and approval of every substance packaged for a nuclear dump.
As investigators keep trying to pinpoint what caused a drum of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to pop open and leak in an underground repository near Carlsbad, the labs review of the incident has led to uncertainty over the volatility of hundreds of other drums, including dozens still at Los Alamos.Friday, September 6, has come & gone...no update on 'proof' from DOE...
In July, LANL chemist Nan Sauer told a state legislative committee that the two drums the one that leaked in WIPP and another one stored at the lab had a unique set of chemicals.
Still, officials from the lab, the National Nuclear Safety Administration and the Department of Energy decided to review all the nitrate salt-bearing drums. They said their state permits for handling and storing the waste drums require them to recharacterize it when an analysis points to a change in the waste stream.
On July 30, they sent a letter to the New Mexico Environment Department saying they were relabeling the drums as potentially ignitable or corrosive pending further tests and reviews of original waste documents.
New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn wrote a reply giving the lab until Friday to provide proof the drums may be temporarily relabeled. NMED is not aware that this approach is supported by regulations or EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] documents, Flynn wrote. Flynn also wants the lab to explain why 57 remediated drums of nitrate salt-bearing containers and 29 unremediated ones qualify as ignitable or corrosive under EPA rules. The department also has asked for a list of the unremediated waste drums, how much free liquid is in each one and how the containers will be treated. Remediated drums hold waste that was repackaged with kitty litter and sometimes neutralizer so it will meet requirements for storage at WIPP.
In May, Flynn ordered the lab and the Department of Energy to isolate nitrate salt-bearing containers and to craft a plan for sealing off 368 such containers from the lab currently stored in the WIPP salt caverns.
My comments there:
The latest. A few more details (white foam?). I just want to point out the other 'new' detail I noted, URS Corp. (which is now revealed to be the lead in the partnership operating WIPP) is a majority owner of Washington River Protection Solutions, the lead cleanup contractor at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is embroiled in a whistle-blower-firing blowup over safety.
On a satirical note, from the latter link on Hanford,
Tamosaitis, who was in charge of research and led a large team of scientists, had raised concerns about the safety of mixing technology that was critical to a nuclear waste treatment plant at the facility.If the fact that he was 'Miltoned' has any bearing on WIPP, and this is the company partly also running things at LANL, well...jokes suddenly seem out of place.
He was relieved of his management job, put in a basement room without a telephone or office furniture and given no work assignments. He was later fired
They still don't know what caused it, don't have a plan and James Conca is still running around saying it will 'be reopened'...
...worse, Conca is cherry-coating what is still believed to be the genesis of the problem: Violation of procedures at LANL by either DOE or the contractor, where he writes,
For reasons perhaps related to good intentions, or merely related to dust generation, the inorganic kitty litter was replaced by organic wheat-based litter early on in the process. There were a few other components of not much import in the drums, but additional organic components just added more fuel.
Some decisions regarding these additives are vague and not attributable to a real chemist. Citric acid should never be used with metal-nitrate salts, because of the rapid evolution of heat. Similarly for acrylates. The use of organic additives for whatever purpose adds fuel to this mixture. And organic litters have the wrong properties for their intended function but being organic, they too add to the amount of fuel that could burn. I do think the correct litter alone would have prevented these reactions.
When real chemists did look at this mixture, they were appalled.
The problem in our nuclear power industry and its government regulators is systemic. A former nuclear supporter myself, I'm convinced more than ever that the time passed in 2011 where we should have begun moving away from meltdown-prone nuclear power to something better (thorium, for example).
We can only hope it's not too late to start, but the 'start' may now not come for another 2-4 years; I venture to guess we'll know more about the damage from Fukushima by then and that it will be shaping policy decisions moving forward...
The Energy Department Tuesday released a plan to reopen the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico following a February accident and release of radiation. The department expects to spend between $310 million and $550 million, with the intention of resuming additional storage of transuranic waste from the nations legacy nuclear defense sites by 2016.and the Udall/Heinrich joint statement
A new ventilation shaft and system for the half-mile deep facility will account for up to half the costs as the department transitions into working around contaminated areas.
Investigators pin the radiation release on a drum that did not meet the facilitys acceptability criteria.
This drum was processed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is known to have nitrate salts, low pH, and organic material, which are likely to have been contributing factors to the release, the department wrote.
In the continuing resolution signed this month, Congress gave the department flexibility to spend funds to maintain recovery operations at the site. The department expects fiscal 2015 costs to be $136 million, not including the ventilation system and shaft.
This is a reasonable framework for moving forward, said New Mexicos Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall in a joint statement. As this plan develops, collaboration between the Department of Energy, regulators, WIPP, and the community will continue to be important.
Don Hancock, director of the nuclear waste safety program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, was skeptical the department would stay within the timeframe and costs it set forth the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014and let's not forget that LANL is to blame
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich issued the following statement today on the release of the Department of Energys Recovery Plan for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico:
This is a reasonable framework for moving forward. It incorporates recommendations from the Accident Investigation Boards to improve operations and lays the groundwork to reinstate a culture in which safety is the top priority.
As this plan develops, collaboration between the Department of Energy, regulators, WIPP, and the community will continue to be important, and well keep working to ensure these lines of communication remain open and that key maintenance and management programs are in place. As our nations only deep geological repository for transuranic waste, we expect WIPP to operate with the highest level of safety and the highest level of transparency. The safety, health, and protection of our workers and community is of the utmost importance.
We still expect a final report on the cause of the release to be completed and will keep fighting to ensure funding and resources are made available to implement the recovery plan so WIPP can safely resume operations.
A copy of the plan is available here.
But wait: Not the 'latest':
October 28, 2014Go here for Past Wipp Updates at that site...
WIPP continues to restore activities underground
WIPP employees recently completed the 100th entry into the WIPP underground facility since the February events that temporarily shut down access. Radiological control technicians continue to conduct rollback surveys and sampling necessary to re-establish additional areas of the mine as radiological buffer areas. Preventive maintenance activities are underway on various pieces of heavy equipment so they can be safely returned to service. Ongoing geophysical inspections are also being conducted to identify potential ground control issues and ensure a safe and secure working environment. Finally, maintenance crews are cleaning and inspecting electrical panels in the radiological buffer areas to ensure no soot from the fire is present.
The underground maintenance shop and lunchroom have also now been surveyed and released for use by employees working in the underground facility. Reopening these areas is an important milestone toward resuming normal activities. The number of employees allowed in the underground facility at one time remains limited until the waste hoist is returned to operation, which is expected in the coming weeks.
Beginning the week of November 3, 2014, the WIPP UPDATE will be moving to a once a week schedule, with Thursday as the targeted day for release. Additional updates will be provided as necessary for timely reporting on special issues or events.
Community meeting scheduled
November 6 The City of Carlsbad and DOE will co-host its Town Hall meeting featuring updates on WIPP recovery activities. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Location: Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno Street. Live streaming of the meeting can be seen at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/.
LANL officials downplayed wastes dangers even after leak
By Patrick Malone
The New Mexican | Update
In the summer of 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez visited the hilltop facilities of Los Alamos National Laboratory to commemorate a milestone. The lab, under an agreement with the state, had just shipped its 1,000th truckload of Cold War-era nuclear waste from the grounds of Los Alamos to a salt cavern deep under the Southern New Mexico desert.
The achievement meant the lab was well on its way to meeting a June 30, 2014, deadline imposed by Martinez to remove radioactive gloves, machinery and other equipment left over from decades of nuclear weapons research.
For Los Alamos National Security LLC, the private consortium that operates the lab, the stakes were high. Meeting the deadline would help it secure an extension of its $2.2 billion annual contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.
But the following summer, workers packaging the waste came across a batch that was extraordinarily acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. The labs guidelines called for work to shut down while the batch underwent a rigid set of reviews to determine how to treat it, a time-consuming process that jeopardized the labs goal of meeting the deadline.
Instead, the lab and its various contractors took shortcuts in treating the acidic nuclear waste, adding neutralizer and a wheat-based organic kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The combination turned the waste into a potential bomb that one lab chemist later characterized as akin to plastic explosives, according to a six-month investigation by The New Mexican.
The lab then shipped a 55-gallon drum of the volatile material 330 miles to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nations only underground repository for nuclear waste, southeast of Carlsbad. Documents accompanying the drum, which were supposed to include a detailed description of its contents, were deeply flawed. They made no mention of the acidity or the neutralizer, and they mischaracterized the kitty litter as a clay-based material not the more combustible organic variety that most chemists would have recognized as hazardous if mixed with waste laden with nitrate salts, according to interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents and internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
On Feb. 14, with the campaign to clear the waste from Los Alamos more than 90 percent complete, the drums lid cracked open. Radiation leaked into the air. Temperatures in the underground chamber soared to 1,600 degrees, threatening dozens of nearby drums. At least 20 workers were contaminated with what federal officials have described as low levels of radiation.
The facility, meanwhile, remains shut down as an estimated $500 million recovery effort expected to last several years gets underway, leaving thousands of containers of nuclear waste destined for WIPP stranded at national laboratories across the country.
Documents and internal emails show that even after the radiation leak, lab officials downplayed the dangers of the waste even to the Carlsbad managers whose staff members were endangered by its presence and withheld critical information from regulators and WIPP officials investigating the leak. Internal emails, harshly worded at times, convey a tone of exasperation with LANL from WIPP personnel, primarily employees of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the repository.
Taken together, the documents provide a window into a culture of oversight at the lab that, in the race to clean up the waste, had so broken down that small missteps sometimes led to systemic problems.
Even before the waste was treated at Los Alamos, mistakes had been made that could have been instrumental in causing the accident at WIPP. Emails between WIPP contractors involved in the leak investigation indicate that something as simple as a typographical error in a revision of LANLs procedural manual for processing waste containing nitrate salts may have precipitated a switch from inorganic clay kitty litter to the organic variety.
And for two years preceding the February incident, the lab refused to allow inspectors conducting annual permitting audits for the New Mexico Environment Department inside the facility where waste was treated. Only since the radiation leak has the Environment Department demanded that it go inside the facility for inspections.
The waste container that ultimately burst would not have met federal transportation standards to get on the road from Los Alamos to Carlsbad, nor would it have been accepted at WIPP, if its true ingredients had been reported by the lab. Investigators have zeroed in on those ingredients as the possible cause of the chemical reaction that led to the radiation leak, although the exact catalyst for the reaction remains a mystery.
The National Nuclear Security Administrations Accident Investigation Board, an arm of the Energy Department, is expected to soon release findings of its investigation on the cause of the radiation leak. And the New Mexico Environment Department is set to begin levying fines against LANL that some lab officials expect could total $10 million or more.
As its report takes shape, the federal board is exploring what role LANL contractors profit motive and the rush to meet the deadline imposed by the state Environment Department a key objective necessary to fully extend its lucrative contract played in the missteps that caused the leak.
We expect that that report will address this very specific question, Mark Whitney, the Department of Energys acting assistant secretary of environmental management, told reporters during a teleconference in late September.
A patented explosive
More than three months after the leak, LANL chemist Steve Clemmons compared the ingredients of the drum, labeled Waste Drum 68660, to a database of federal patents and found that together, the drums contents match the makeup of patented plastic, water-gel and slurry explosives, according to a memo.
All of the required components included in the patent claims would be present, Clemmons wrote in the May 21 memo.
Personnel at WIPP were oblivious to Clemmons discovery for nearly a week after he made it. Only after a Department of Energy employee leaked a copy of the memo to a colleague in Carlsbad the night before a planned entry into the room that held the ruptured drum did WIPP get word that it could be dealing with explosive components inside Waste Drum 68660.
Have you heard that we at the lab have confirmed that the material used in the drum DOES create an explosive mixture???? James ONeil of the Department of Energys National Nuclear Security Administration wrote May 27 to Hung-Cheng Chiou, who works at the Department of Energys Carlsbad Field Office.
In a follow-up email, ONeil clarified what he meant: A letter from the LANL chemistry group here stated that putting the type of kitty litter of sorts mixed with the nitrate salts created a patented explosive mixture.
Wow, that is the news to me, Chiou wrote back. How can the explosive mixture be in the drum content that could be sent to WIPP?
ONeil expressed his own surprise that such a dangerous load was allowed to be shipped to WIPP.
Not sure how [that] type drum, which does not meet WIPP [waste acceptance criteria] even got shipped to you guys, he wrote.
From there, word of the memo reached managers at WIPP.
I am appalled that LANL didnt provide us this information! Dana Bryson, deputy manager of the Department of Energys Carlsbad Field Office, wrote in an email to WIPP-based field office manager Jose Franco and others when she learned of the memo.
LANL officials, in a written statement from a spokesman, said scientific testing has eliminated the explosive nature of the waste as the cause of the radiation leak. Numerous experiments trying to replicate the conditions in Waste Drum 68660 have failed to yield the same result, officials said.
But Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a watchdog organization that tracks activities at the lab, said LANL should have recognized the potentially volatile mix it had concocted before shipping it to WIPP, rather than three months after it burst.
It took only seconds with Google to find explosives patents when the foremost ingredients in Waste Drum 68660 were punched in, he said.
On May 27, when they learned of the memo about patented explosives that the lab hadnt shared with them, supervisors at WIPP abandoned plans for the next day to sample the area where the breach occurred, fearing it was too dangerous.
In a phone call with LANL, they indicated that there is a possibility that any sampling of the kitty litter/drum contents could cause another event, David Freeman, Nuclear Waste Partnerships chief nuclear engineer, wrote in an email.
Bryson demanded answers from Peter Maggiore, the National Nuclear Security Administrations assistant manager for environmental programs at LANL.
We have a formal letter on LANL letterhead implying there is a real and present danger in the WIPP underground, Bryson wrote. This is contrary to everything I have heard from LANL on this issue. The email you sent from LANL implied there might be more of these hidden yet formal warnings.
Chiou, too, was livid when he learned that the Los Alamos-based employee who first alerted WIPP personnel to the threat was reprimanded by the Department of Energys Los Alamos Site Office for sharing that information.
This is direct contradiction of DOE/NNSA policy and what we believed in, Chiou wrote to Franco, Bryson and others. It is most important that we have the information (regardless official or unofficial) so that we as [the Carlsbad Field Office of the Energy Department] can make better informed decisions as best we could. However, it may not work that way as it seems. I hope that we can do better in getting relevant information from LANL so we can make a better decision for the WIPP project.
After a conference call with LANL officials, WIPP decision-makers on May 30 sent workers in protective suits into the room to collect samples. But a June 17 report by LANL personnel based at WIPP found the intense underground flare may have destabilized up to 55 more drums of waste that were in close proximity to Waste Drum 68660 when it ruptured, calling into question whether they, too, had become poised to burst.
[The high heat event] may have dried out some of the unreacted oxidizer-organic mixtures increasing their potential for spontaneous reaction, the report said. The dehydration of the fuel-oxidizer mixtures caused by the heating of the drums is recognized as a condition known to increase the potential for reaction.
Frustrations over LANLs reluctance to share what it knew about Waste Drum 68660 had been percolating at WIPP long before the discovery of the memo that suggested the drum contained all the ingredients of a patented plastic explosive.
A May 5 email between WIPP employee James Willison and federal contractor Fran Williams suggested LANL was reluctant to acknowledge the most basic details about what Waste Drum 68660 held.
LANL used a wheat-based kitty litter rather than clay-based kitty litter as a stabilizer, Willison wrote. They fessed up after we nailed down the general area. At least now we know.
Wow, Williams responded. How bad is that?
On paper, the volatile combination of contents inside the drum that burst were not evident to experts who reviewed them because they were not included in the list of ingredients Los Alamos is required to generate for regulatory purposes and to assure the waste is stable enough to be accepted at WIPP.
In the case of Waste Drum 68660, that report, known as acceptable knowledge, was woefully incomplete and portrayed the mix as far more stable than it truly was, according to the emails.
In documents filed with the New Mexico Environment Department before the accident, LANL reported that the waste in the drum that would later burst is stable and will not undergo violent chemical change without detonating, and there is no indication that the waste contains explosive materials, and it is not capable of detonation or explosive reaction. The materials in the waste stream are therefore not reactive wastes.
Los Alamos description of the drums contents was so flawed that post-accident reviews by WIPP personnel resulted in a revised acceptable knowledge report in May that included everything that had been left out of the original.
Be sure and read the AK [acceptable knowledge] description it assumed that the absorbent was clay based, Freeman wrote to another waste specialist at WIPP.
A neutralizing agent was used [at LANL] to obtain a neutral pH though not in the procedure and not documented, Freeman wrote in another message.
A WIPP report that followed stated: These chemicals not being considered could lead to an incomplete AK record which could be a violation of the WIPP hazardous waste facility permit requirements.
Yet another WIPP briefing paper suggests that even though the contents inside Waste Drum 68660 came from an unusually acidic batch of waste with a pH of zero, appropriate handling at LANL could have mitigated the threat, but the use of the wrong neutralizer failed to reconcile the problem and in fact exacerbated it. And in the labs description of the waste before it shipped to WIPP, its uniquely high acidity was not reported.
If the manufacturers directions were followed, the liquid would have been neutralized to a pH of approximately 7, Michael Papp, a waste composition specialist at Nuclear Waste Partnership, wrote to managers for the contractor. However, the final pH of the liquid was not included in the repackaging paperwork.
A costly typo
In a damning report issued in October, the Department of Energys Office of Inspector General chided LANL and its waste packaging subcontractor EnergySolutions for the change from clay-based to organic kitty litter and the use of an acid neutralizer.
This action may have led to an adverse chemical reaction within the drums resulting in serious safety implications, the report said, referring to the litter change. A lab spokesman said LANL officials recognize deficiencies in the labs safety processes were spotlighted by the disaster at WIPP.
But LANL has never publicly acknowledged the reason why it switched from clay-based litter to the organic variety believed to be the fuel that fed the intense heat. In internal emails, nuclear waste specialists pondered several theories about the reason for the change in kitty litters before settling on an almost comically simplistic conclusion that has never been publicly discussed: A typographical error in a revision to a LANL policy manual for repackaging waste led to a wholesale shift from clay litter to the wheat-based variety.
The revision, approved by LANL, took effect Aug. 1, 2012, mere days after the governors celebratory visit to Los Alamos, and explicitly directed waste packagers at the lab to ENSURE an organic absorbent (kitty litter) is added to the waste when packaging drums of nitrate salt.
Does it seem strange that the procedure was revised to specifically require organic kitty litter to process nitrate salt drums? Freeman, Nuclear Waste Partnerships chief nuclear engineer at WIPP, asked a colleague in a May 28 email.
Freeman went on to echo some of the possible reasons for the change bandied about in earlier emails, such as the off-putting dust or perfumed scents characteristic of clay litter. But his colleague, Mark Pearcy, a member of the team that reviews waste to ensure it is acceptable to be stored at WIPP, offered a surprising explanation.
General consensus is that the organic designation was a typo that wasnt caught, he wrote, implying that the directions should have called for inorganic litter.
Officials at LANL declined to comment about whether a typographical error led to the switch to organic kitty litter.
Whatever the reason, LANL began treating waste with assorted varieties of organic kitty litter as early as September 2012, spawning thousands of drums of waste that hold the same organic threat thats being eyed as a contributing factor in the rupture of Waste Drum 68660.
Organic kitty litter may have been mixed in up to 5,565 containers of waste at LANL starting in September 2012 that were incorrectly labeled as holding inorganic litter, according to an assessment conducted by WIPP personnel.
Notes from a May conference call with federal regulators contained in the emails show LANLs use of organic kitty litter defied clear instructions from WIPP personnel to use the clay type.
[WIPP contractors] authorized X for use and LANL used Y, Todd Sellmer, transportation and packaging manager at Nuclear Waste Partnership, wrote in an email documenting the call.
Lax state oversight
The push to speed up nuclear waste removal from Los Alamos began after the June 2011 Las Conchas Fire. The blaze, the largest in New Mexico history, scorched 156,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains and came within a few miles of LANLs Area G, where 3,327.5 cubic feet of waste from decades of nuclear weapons development was stored.
Worried that another fire would breach the compound, the state Environment Department and lab officials agreed to a June 30, 2014, deadline to clear The Hill of waste and ship it to WIPP.
Meeting the goal meant big money for Los Alamos National Security, the private company formed eight years ago by Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, URS Energy and Construction, and the University of California to operate LANL. The deadline was built into the federal grading scale that determines the contractors fee, and more importantly, whether LANS receives extensions of its $2.2 billion-a-year contract to operate the lab at Los Alamos. LANS already had been denied a one-year extension when it failed to meet goals associated with progress toward making several dilapidated facilities operable.
But since the deadline was set, nuclear watchdog groups have publicly criticized Gov. Martinezs Cabinet secretary for the Environment Department, Ryan Flynn, for relaxing the frequency of waste drum inspections during LANLs cleanup campaign. Emails obtained by The New Mexican raise new questions about whether oversight of LANLs waste packaging activities by Flynns department was sufficient.
Department inspectors are required to conduct annual audits of the lab to ensure it meets state permitting guidelines. But in 2012 and 2013, Environment Department officials say, LANL warned them to stay out of the waste handling facility because they did not have appropriate training to be around radioactive waste, according to emails.
Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the Environment Department, said the states audit team didnt insist on entering because it was working on higher priority duties at the time that mandated our attention.
Only since the disaster at WIPP has the department insisted on getting access to the site where Waste Drum 68660 was processed.
Flynn, meanwhile, has expressed similar frustrations with WIPP officials over what he has called LANLs reluctance to share what it knows about the contents of the drum. He has made clear that the Environment Department is poised to levy steep penalties against the labs permit.
The more we investigate, the more were discovering at Los Alamos, Flynn told The New Mexican in a September interview.
Its still unclear what impact the Feb. 14 leak will have on LANS and its contract, which runs through Oct. 1, 2017, according to federal records. Four managers overseeing the cleanup at the lab already have been replaced, and more shake-ups are underway.
Federal officials, meanwhile, estimate a yearslong recovery plan to reopen WIPP will cost at least $500 million a figure some critics characterize as an overly conservative guess. The financial consequences of the disaster were already becoming evident by May 7, when WIPP-based Department of Energy employee Irene Joo emailed a colleague to speculate about what had gone wrong at LANL.
She wrote: I expect we will all pay the price.
So much BS. Report is out now.