LANL Ordered to Stop Shipments to WIPP Following Improper Deliveries of Low Level Waste

UC Regents Visit LANL

* The Department of Energy (DOE) recently suspended shipments from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) after discovering that LANL had sent at least 98 drums of low-level waste to WIPP. WIPP is only authorized to accept transuranic waste, which is plutonium-contaminated. The waste sent by LANL was less radioactive than the transuranic threshold and therefore not authorized for disposal at WIPP.

New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ron Curry said, "We are concerned with this failure of [DOE's] waste analysis program. By emplacing waste that does not meet the definition of transuranic at WIPP, DOE is not only violating federal procedures, it is wasting the taxpayers' money." Before being shipped to WIPP, each drum undergoes a thorough inspection process to ensure that it is designated waste for WIPP. This includes measuring the amount of radioactivity in each drum. In´es Triay, head of WIPP operations for DOE, said that the problem stemmed from equipment at LANL that was inadequate for measuring the lowest levels of radiation in the drums.

Curry said, "Considering LANL's current environmental standing with the state, we are disappointed with this egregious management error."

The mistake was discovered during an audit of LANL's waste shipments to WIPP under the state's hazardous waste permit. Typically, drums and their accompanying documentation are inspected upon arrival at WIPP as well. The mistake comes following a proposal by Senator Pete Domenici to weaken NMED inspections of waste destined for WIPP. Senator Domenici claims that such inspections are unnecessary and costly.

Curry said, "This breakdown of waste certification procedures is especially concerning given the recent push in Congress to change WIPP's waste analysis plan. By limiting state oversight of waste analysis activities, we are being forced to simply trust DOE on what's in these drums. As this failure points out, that's something the state cannot afford to do."

* The University of California (UC) Regents visited LANL this week. According to the meeting announcement, the purpose of the meeting was to receive public comment on University-related matters. However, the Regents only scheduled a scant 20 minutes of public comment before being taken off to tour the LANL facilities. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "It is sheer rhetoric on their part that they are interested in public comment."

UC is the managing contractor for LANL, although the contract that UC has held securely for 60 years will be up for bid for the first time in 2005. In his address to the Regents, LANL Director Pete Nanos reiterated his commitment to UC management of LANL. The Regents did not indicate that they would certainly bid for the contract, although UC's new president Robert Dynes said, "At this moment we will move forward expecting to compete."

Among the commentators were Darwin BondGraham and Emily Hell, alumni of UC Santa Cruz. Both requested that the Regents choose not to bid for management of the nuclear weapons facility.

Back to News Index