CCNS members discuss effects of Clean Air lawsuit

*A unified message was presented by various speakers at the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (or CCNS) April 11th meeting at Hotel Santa Fe where an in-depth discussion focused on the settlement provisions of the CCNS Clean Air Act citizens' lawsuit against the Department of Energy (or DOE) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL).

Suzanne Westerly of CCNS gave a brief history of the lawsuit. "In 1994, CCNS filed a suit against the U.S. DOE and LANL, alleging LANL's lack of compliance with radionuclide emission standards under the Clean Air Act." The Santa Fe-based nuclear watchdog organization contended that LANL was not in compliance in 31 of its 33 stacks emitting radionuclides.

A federal district court ruled in favor of CCNS, and under the terms of the settlement, LANL must comply with up to four independent audits of its radioactive emissions air monitoring program. Under the settlement, DOE must pay for these audits.

The settlement was prompted to avoid $2.3 billion in potential lab fines or possible shutdown of some facilities.

The first audit was conducted in 1997, and its findings have been released. Among the compliance deficiencies the final report notes:
* A lack of documentation of radionuclide inventory;
* An absence of independent verification of calculations; and
* Certain environmental sampling techniques and assumptions were not described or documents.

The second audit, which will address issues raised from the first audit, is just beginning, said a representative from the LANL public affairs office.

If needed, a third audit will commence in 2002, and a fourth in 2003.

As part of the panel of experts to address the group's questions were Dr. John Till, president of Risk Assessment Corporation (RAC), who is leading the audit team, and Dr. Arjun Makhijani, of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, CCNS' independent consultant that monitored the process and the final report from the first audit.

Dr. Till noted that the primary objective of the first audit was to determine deficiencies in compliance, find weaknesses and make recommendations to address them and bring common stakeholders together in the process.

Till commented that through the audit, the experts were able to determine regulatory deficiencies, issue specific procedural suggestions beyond regulations that made sense, scientifically and technically, and provide other observations about the LANL processes. "I can state that this is the most thorough compliance for an audit Los Alamos has ever done. We made some significant recommendations for improving programs, and everyone benefits if we can make them better," Dr. Till said. He noted LANL's cooperation and called the audit a ground-breaking process for all parties involved. He also mentioned that he is a strong advocate of the public being able to understand the dose and risk hazards that they may be exposed to.

Dr. Makhijani said his group agreed with the report's findings with the exception of one area, which was the compliance of the 10 millirem exposure standard used for passerby, or jogger, scenario. While Dr. Makhijani noted there was no documentation to suggest non-compliance and that the "flat terrain" modeling that was used to deliver the data and analysis could be disputed, which therefore, could bring the result into question. "I believe they should address the models, considering exposure to individual," he said, noting the complex terrain of mesas and canyons and ever changing weather patterns around LANL.

Doug Stavert of the LANL Air Quality Group, who was also part of the panel, said, "This was beneficial for LANL. Being accountable to the public and CCNS has taught us something." He said that more areas of concern will be addressed as the audit progresses. Some EPA requirements don't always make sense, he said, but LANL must still comply with them, and "all members of the public must be protected and we totally agree with that."

Stavert said the audit started a dialogue that wouldn't have happened five years ago.

The presentations were followed by numerous questions from the audience of about 100 people.

Dr. Makhijani commented on the nuclear industry. He said, "There are many good people and good scientists in it, but the nuclear industry isn't currently a good steward of the environment and more improvements could be made in the process."

The Santa Fe meeting was held to kick off the second audit.

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