Submitted by Joni Arends,
Waste Programs Director
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
January 28, 2003

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) is pleased that the National Research Council Committee is asking important questions about the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to affected entities and that it is seeking public involvement in that process.

CCNS would like to make some brief comments and suggest some additional questions, which follow. We look forward to providing additional comments at today's meeting. Of course, at that time CCNS would be pleased to respond to any questions that the Committee might have. CCNS appreciates the fact that the Committee is holding its second meeting in Santa Fe so that additional people can be involved in the Committee's meetings.

1. CCNS supports the inclusion of the questions raised by Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) in its January 13, 2003 submittal to the Committee. CCNS also supports SRIC's concerns about current operations at WIPP.

2. For a variety of reasons, CCNS believes that the WIPP project is in its infancy. The transuranic (TRU) waste that is currently being shipped to WIPP is the "new" or "best" waste, or waste that is stored in the newest containers and has the most complete written documentation to support what is in the containers. The "best" waste allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to ship quicker, faster, and cheaper. However, CCNS is very concerned that soon DOE will be handling and shipping "older" waste, which will be shipped in older containers and will have diminished documentation. CCNS asks the Committee look down the road and take these facts into consideration with respect to any recommendations it might make about waste characterization and transportation.

Questions for DOE:

1. Question 6 asks about significant differences between conditions provided for in the WIPP permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and sites that generate and store wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In order to prepare a complete comparison of the sites, CCNS believes that the question should be expanded to address the fact that the NMED WIPP permit allows for treatment, storage and disposal of wastes and therefore there are additional permit requirements and conditions which address the disposal of wastes.

2. Regarding question 10, CCNS would add: What quality assurance and quality control measures have been established to ensure the precision, accuracy, acceptable error rates, and other measurement targets for waste characterization? What is the range of uncertainties associated with the waste characterization data?

3. Regarding question 11, CCNS would add: What is the range of uncertainties associated with the "representatives sample" measurements made by DOE?

4. Regarding question 13, CCNS does not believe that by characterizing, transporting and disposing of only three percent (3%) of the total inventory of contact-handled (CH) transuranic waste that DOE has "significant experience" with these activities. CCNS believes that DOE is still learning about characterizing, transporting and disposing of the wastes. Nevertheless, CCNS supports the Committee question about DOE evaluating the existing data and publishing the results of these activities.

5. Regarding question 14, CCNS reminds the Committee that during the NMED WIPP permit hearing, DOE used a videotape of the real-time radiography (RTR) for waste drum S811697 from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to demonstrate a homogeneous solid waste drum. However, the RTR showed that this drum contained a greater-than-4-liter sealed container. In addition, the acceptable knowledge (AK) documents stated that the drum contained cemented inorganics and spent samples. The Carlsbad Area Office had certified the AK procedures and documents at LANL even though LANL was not authorized to characterize homogeneous solids.

6. Regarding question 22, the Committee should be aware of statements made by DOE at public meetings in Santa Fe that it would be taking a "holistic" approach in proposing permit modifications. CCNS agrees with this approach, especially for major modifications where the public should have the opportunity to discuss the impacts and synergy of the various permit modification requests (PMRs). Yet, DOE has contradicted itself and has submitted unrelated PMRs. Sometimes DOE delays submitting related modifications until one has been approved by NMED in order to prevent the public from commenting in an effective manner about the interrelations between the proposed permit modifications.

CCNS and others have attended hours and hours of DOE meetings about preliminary modification requests, including for the proposed Central Characterization Facility and the disposal of Remote-Handled (RH) TRU waste. We have spent hours and hours reviewing and commenting on technically inadequate PMRs. We have commented that if DOE desires to be more efficient and save money that it should submit technically complete PMRs. An improved process should be developed in order for DOE and NMED to have preliminary discussions with stakeholders regarding proposed PMRs and to give priority to specific changes.

7. Regarding question 30, CCNS reminds the Committee that the double containment prevented contamination from escaping from TRUPACT No. 157, a shipment from the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). A drunk driver on August 25, 2002, hit the WIPP transport truck just miles from WIPP. As noted in yesterday's Albuquerque Journal, TRUPACT No. 157 has yet to be opened to find out what happened, because there are no procedures or facilities in place in order to investigate the cause. Neither the Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) nor INEEL are apparently making effective attempts to determine what happened, to address the contamination, and to prevent recurrences. The fact that DOE has not stopped shipping until the cause of the contamination is determined, is of major concern.

8. There are some other questions that seem relevant but are missing from the questionnaire:

A. What experience does DOE have for conducting characterization activities in large containers -- i.e. 85-gallon and 100-gallon containers? How will the 85-gallon containers be repackaged at WIPP? The 100-gallon containers?

B. Citizens in the Las Vegas, NM area have expressed concerns about the WIPP trucks stopping and resting at the Texaco station in Romeroville, NM. DOE has been slow in responding to their concerns. How can DOE be made to be more responsive to community concerns about WIPP transportation?

C. How is DOE incorporating the precautionary principle into its operations?

D. What is the status of the Optimization Plan which "will present the methods to improve, or optimize, the system in terms of characterization, transportation, and disposal with sub-tiered categories of administrative change/operational efficiency, regulatory change, technology implementation, and research, development and deployment" for the National TRU Waste Management Plan? DOE/NTP-96-1204, Rev. 2, p. xxiv.

Questions for Members of the Public: CCNS will provide more detailed answers in our presentation on January 28.

1. Regarding question 35, CCNS's major concerns with current operations at WIPP include the fact that WIPP is one of three major DOE sites in the State of New Mexico, all with "continuing" missions. The other two sites are Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. New Mexicans are impacted by the operations at these sites (air emissions and water and soil contamination) and by the transportation and disposal of TRU waste at WIPP. Policies are being developed, without the opportunity for public participation, which will affect these sites.

Related concerns include the lack of public participation in the "accelerated cleanup" process initiated by DOE HQ through the Top-to-Bottom Review (T2BR), Letters of Intent, Performance Management Plans (PMPs), and now the Risk-Based Cleanup Project. DOE, at the headquarters, area office (Albuquerque), field office (CBFO), and site level, have made many statements that public input into these processes is important. Yet, the T2BR was released without public input. The PMP for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was released on a Friday afternoon, with comments due the following Monday. The New Mexico LOI was negotiated without public input. After asking about and receiving an email with the draft Risk-Based Cleanup Project documents attached last Wednesday, comments are due on January 31, 2003.

All of these documents state directly or indirectly that in order to reduce risk and accelerate cleanup within the DOE complex, that TRU waste must be sent to WIPP. DOE has made statements that accelerating shipments to WIPP will save money, up to $8 billion, but has not provided evidence supporting these statements.

A specific example is the proposed mobile characterization unit for TRU waste at LANL's Technical Area 54, which CCNS will explain more fully at todayıs meeting.

In conclusion, CCNS believes that in order for DOE to protect public health and the environment, DOE must fully comply with the applicable regulatory requirements. Furthermore, many of the historic environmental and human health problems throughout the DOE complex have been caused by the lack of regulation and the lack of compliance. Insofar as WIPP is the first DOE facility to "start clean and stay clean," that can only occur with strict compliance of regulatory requirements, including those related to waste characterization and transportation.