In initiating this study, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) encouraged the committee to identify opportunities for eliminating self-imposed DOE requirements that have no clear technical or safety basis. Accordingly, this chapter identifies institutional barriers and self-imposed requirements that, based on the committee’s site visits, are keeping EM from making the most of its current capabilities for accelerating cleanup. The committee found that such obstacles arise from security classification of Manhattan Project-era equipment being disposed as waste, apparent reluctance to pursue available regulatory remedies, and inconsistent and often excessively strict interpretations by DOE site and contractor personnel of waste characterization and treatment requirements. The committee believes that the ability to resolve these obstacles lies within the administrative authority of DOE and EM.1 By identifying these barriers and self-imposed requirements, this report may provide impetus for positive changes that can significantly accelerate the cleanup program.
EM headquarters and sites should aggressively pursue opportunities to simplify and expedite waste characterization, treatment, and disposal by
working with the responsible classification offices to declassify, to the extent possible, classified materials declared as wastes,
better utilizing the waste removal provisions of CERCLA, and
developing more consistent interpretations among sites of waste acceptance requirements and accelerated cleanup objectives.
EM should work with its sites, their contractors, and affected citizens to take advantage of these opportunities to the greatest extent possible.
SECURITY CLASSIFICATION OF WASTES
During the days of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War era most nuclear materials, equipment, and documentation were classified for security reasons—even the existence of the production sites was classified. Today, a significant fraction of the documentation from that era has been declassified, but much material and process equipment remain classified. Some of these classified materials are destined to become waste as part of site cleanup activities. Workers must have security clearance in order to handle, remove, or treat classified wastes—or often just to work in its vicinity. This results in a reduced labor pool, increased labor costs, and extended cleanup time. Requirements for packaging classified wastes increase waste volumes. For disposal, the waste must be sent to a classified burial ground with long-term physical protection obligations and associated costs. In appropriate cases, removing the security classification of some wastes may provide EM with a significant opportunity to save time and money.
The committee became aware of the constraints imposed by classified waste during open-meeting discussions of the decommissioning of the Oak Ridge K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. The K-25 plant presents one of EM’s greatest decommissioning challenges (Figure 2.1). The amount, size, and mass of classified Manhattan Project-era equipment in K-25 make removal and disposal a large part of the challenge. Classified equipment at the Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, gaseous diffusion plants is likely to pose similar removal and disposal challenges in the future.
While gaseous diffusion equipment appears to be a primary example of how security classification costs time and money in EM’s cleanup activities, the committee expects that there are other examples that were not discussed in its open meetings. In response to committee questions, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) representatives acknowledged issues involving the retrieval of classified buried wastes. Presenters at the Savannah River Site (SRS) explained that classified components there are being declassified by physical alteration.
The Atomic Energy Act requires that information relating to nuclear energy and its use in weapons be classified at inception. Atomic energy information remains classified forever, unless officially declassified. Knowl-
edge and technology have evolved greatly since the Manhattan Project and the onset of the Cold War, which has likely rendered the bases for classifying these materials obsolete. Adapting the management of old classified materials, now declared as wastes, to the real security needs of today can streamline their removal, treatment, and disposal (the committee’s views on adaptive waste management are developed further in Chapter 4).
DOE (including the National Nuclear Safety Administration) has the authority to declassify and thus, when it can be determined that no security risk is involved, remove obstacles to accelerated cleanup. DOE procedures detail a process for the review and declassification of materials. These procedures are not site-specific and in fact are managed complex-wide owing to the sensitivity and possible impact of the release of the information that is under review.
Aggressive measures to declassify classified wastes as far upstream in the removal, treatment, and disposal sequence as possible should be fully explored and undertaken. In some cases, wastes might simply be deemed unclassified, analogous to formerly classified documents. In other cases, technical measures to destroy classified physical or chemical attributes of the wastes (e.g., crushing, melting, shredding, slagging) could be used based on overall cost-effectiveness. EM headquarters could assign an individual to address the declassification issue complex-wide, in cooperation with the various declassification officers, sites, and contractors. In this manner, all
the sites could benefit from the experiences of sites—such as the SRS practice of destroying classified attributes—that have already been successful at declassifying some of their wastes. All possible avenues to render classified wastes unclassified should be explored.
REMOVAL ACTION AUTHORITY
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, provides federal authority to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. The act provides two kinds of response action:2
Short-term removals, where actions may be taken to address releases or threatened releases requiring prompt response
Long-term remedial response actions that permanently and significantly reduce the dangers associated with releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances that are serious, but not immediately life threatening.
Currently most EM site cleanups are conducted as long-term remedial response actions, which require a much more extensive amount of planning and paperwork than removal actions. During the committee’s public discussion in Idaho and, subsequently, at its final public meeting in Washington, D.C. (see Appendix A), representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised that EM could conduct some of its cleanup activities more efficiently by using DOE’s removal authority, conferred by Executive Order 12580 under Section 104 of CERCLA. A removal action may be time-critical for situations that need attention within six months. However, CERCLA also provides for non-time-critical removals to allow a longer planning period, if necessary. Although there are requirements for public participation in the removal process, they are less than what one typically encounters in the remedial process.
The advice received by the committee is consistent with an earlier study by the General Accounting Office Greater Use of Removal Actions Could Cut Time and Cost for Cleanups (GAO, 1996). This study, which included Hanford, Oak Ridge, SRS, INEEL, and the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, found that where removal actions were used, they reduced the overall time and cost of planning by 70 to 90 percent compared with other approaches. The report noted that although DOE’s policy guidance encouraged use of removal authority, site managers pointed to interagency agreements and environmental restoration contracts as discouraging its use. The report
concluded “While not all waste sites may best be addressed through removal actions, there are still opportunities to accelerate DOE’s environmental restoration through wider use of this approach” (GAO, 1996, p. 2).
The Department of Defense (DOD) initiative on fast-track cleanup of its closure sites, which strives for expedited cleanup and reuse of property, closely parallels DOE’s accelerated cleanup program. A fact sheet from DOD’s Office of the Deputy Undersecretary for Environmental Security suggests the use of removal authority for DOD closure sites and gives a step-by-step description of how to conduct a removal action.3
The use of the removal actions option under CERCLA by DOE may be constrained by the agreements it has made with the EPA and /or the states.4 There are no clear lines as to what response actions should be removal or remedial. Although EPA generally supports the use of removal actions to accelerate responses, many of the DOE responses, due to their cost, complexity, and expense, are more appropriately remedial actions. Also, the cleanup work at DOE sites on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) is governed by Federal Facilities Agreements (FFAs), which typically have states as co-signatories. One of the concerns that the states have is DOE using the removal action option to forego meeting a pertinent standard that should be addressed. Thus the state may require additional input or action beyond that required by CERCLA. Nevertheless, there are schedule and financial incentives for EM to use DOE’s removal authority.
In 1995, EM and EPA jointly endorsed the use of non-time-critical removals for decommissioning DOE facilities (Herman et al., 1995). The committee did not find any evident application of this policy. Recently, the use of time-critical removal action was suggested in a white paper on decommissioning building CPP-627, a former nuclear fuel reprocessing facility at INEEL (Doornbos, 2004). Other use of removal authority by EM and its sites appears sporadic.
DOE’s Mound Plant, Ohio, used removal authority to remediate soil contamination at individual potential release sites instead of using the more time-consuming remedial action, feasibility study, and record of decision approach. Mound estimated a life-cycle savings of 25 years and $2 billion (DOE, 1998b). Oak Ridge has conducted a variety of removal actions, but there appears to have been little recent use of removal authority at SRS, INEEL, or Hanford.5
The EPA Office of Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse maintains a library of documents that describe these agreements and guidance on their interpretation. See http://www.epa.gov/fedfac/
Recovering and treating waste in the 618-10/11 burial ground caissons at Hanford may be an opportunity for use of removal authority by EM. The caissons contain about 10,000 m3 of contact-handled transuranic waste (CH-TRU) and about 100 m3 of remote-handled TRU (RH-TRU), much of it in one-gallon paint cans. The RH-TRU produces radiation levels up to several thousand rads per hour. Some caissons are located near a parking lot currently used by employees of the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant. Removing this potentially high-risk waste would be commensurate with EM’s emphasis on accelerated risk reduction. The committee believes that EM should be aggressive in pursuing this and other opportunities to use DOE’s removal authority for accelerated cleanup.
REMOVAL OF MUNITIONS AT INEEL
During its visit to INEEL, the committee learned that EM resources are being used for clearing military munitions remaining on parts of the site used as a firing range for testing large naval guns and other weapons. While it is clear that some unexploded ordnance may present a danger to site cleanup operations and thus require the immediate attention of EM, it appears that EM has an opportunity to better engage DOD in removing these munitions. DOD has statutory responsibility for removal actions involving past and present military munitions under the CERCLA National Contingency Plan [Section 300.120(b)(c)].
The Defense Environmental Restoration Program requires that DOD identify, assess, and clean up military munitions contamination at formerly used defense sites (FUDS). Under this program, INEEL has been placed in Risk Assessment Code 2 (serious risk—priority for further action). If EM believes that Risk Assessment Code 1 (high risk—highest priority for further action) is warranted, it should make the case with DOD for higher-priority funding. EM has an opportunity to save time and money by pressing DOD on its statutory responsibility to recover and dispose of these legacy munitions.
The semiautonomous operation of the major DOE sites leads to different philosophies and procedures for cleanup. The committee found two general areas in which site autonomy promotes activities that have no technical or safety basis but reduce efficiency and increase cost:
Overly restrictive interpretation of existing requirements for characterizing and sorting transuranic waste (TRU), coupled with lack of criteria
for remote-handled TRU destined for WIPP and for high-level wastes and spent fuels intended for Yucca Mountain.
Demolishing new or uncontaminated facilities that pose little if any long-term risk.
With the number of EM cleanup sites, many of which face similar problems, uniform solutions to common problems should be sought. However, it will be difficult to achieve these without top-level direction. Recently, EM has utilized a number of integrated (corporate) teams to address such issues, but future implementation of the findings of such teams will require involvement and commitment by top-level officials (DOE, 2002c).
Characterization, Sorting, and Waste Acceptance
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) waste acceptance criteria and waste analysis plan comprise a complex set of requirements that must be met by each DOE site to dispose of TRU wastes at WIPP. Each site, working with EM, state officials, and the EPA, has written its own procedures to meet these requirements. A previous (NRC, 2004) study found that there are three TRU waste characterization activities that are apparently conducted for regulatory compliance and do not seem to reduce risk:
sampling and analyzing gases from the headspace of waste drums;
sampling and analysis of homogeneous wastes; and
manual sorting and visual examination to confirm the results of drum radiography (Figure 2.2).
These characterization activities are now prescribed by the WIPP permit.
Site presentations and tours of waste characterization facilities at SRS, Hanford, and INEEL led the committee to the same conclusions presented in the previous study. Following the previous study’s recommendations, the DOE Carlsbad Field Office applied to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for permit modifications to obtain partial relief from these characterization requirements. The NMED had not acted on the application at the time this report was reviewed for publication.
According to the committee’s discussions at the sites visited, the lack of formal waste acceptance criteria (WAC) for waste that requires remote handling (RH-TRU) to be shipped to the WIPP is a significant impediment to accelerated cleanup. Thus, a priority for EM should be to accelerate negotiations with the State of New Mexico to resolve permitting issues so that sites can proceed with their planning for RH-TRU waste packaging and shipping (NRC, 2002a).
Another issue that appears to be slowing down decisions and work planning is uncertainty about the future WAC for waste intended for Yucca Mountain. There appears to be no complex-wide interpretation of the current waste acceptance system requirements (DOE, 2002b), so each site is making assumptions regarding how to characterize, treat, and package wastes and even which wastes will be accepted. Although the WAC will not be finalized until the site is licensed, the sites, EM, and the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, which has overall responsibility for the proposed repository, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must approve DOE’s license application, need to agree on a consistent approach to preparing wastes for disposal in that facility, with one office having oversight authority.
Demolishing Facilities that Pose Little Near-Term Risk
The strategy of the accelerated cleanup program is to eliminate EM’s most significant environmental, health, and safety risks as soon as possible and to address less significant risks later (DOE, 2003; Roberson, 2004). In
its site visits, the committee became aware that many facilities that pose little risk, i.e., they are not contaminated or in structural jeopardy, are being dismantled or demolished as near-term priorities. Although the committee appreciates the sites’ needs to show visible progress and to shrink their operating areas (footprints), these actions are inconsistent with EM’s intent to use its limited resources to achieve the greatest risk reductions.
Site presentations indicated that some of these facilities had large operating budgets and that demolition would eliminate their “mortgage” costs, thus making more money available for risk reduction. There were no presentations on what such costs would be if the facilities were changed from a standby state to an abandoned state with little maintenance since they would be demolished eventually. Such an abandoned state was referred to as “cold, dark, and dry” in EM presentations to a previous committee (NRC, 2001b).
One example is the CPP-666 building intended for naval fuel reprocessing at INEEL but never put into service. It is uncontaminated, and there is no structural reason to dismantle and demolish it in the near term. There are many facilities and waste storage areas of more immediate concern. With its several-feet-thick shielding walls and reinforced construction, demolishing the building will be expensive and time consuming. It is also possible that some future use will be found for it. Other examples include removing railroad track at Hanford, the unused cooling tower built for the K-Reactor at SRS, and numerous office buildings throughout the complex. The 1995 DOE-EPA policy on decommissioning (Herman et al., 1995) was applied at Oak Ridge in the late 1990s in the transfer of several buildings to the city of Oak Ridge. The committee encourages similar transfers of uncontaminated buildings at other sites.