The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is threatening enforcement action against the Department of Energy for failing to meet its obligations in removing containers of transuranic waste currently in temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists’ Federal Waste Facility in West Texas.
In a letter to DOE Deputy Secretary David Turk dated May 10 and made public on June 1, Toby Baker, executive director of the TCEQ, said that the DOE has yet to come up with a plan to remove 74 standard waste boxes of TRU waste that were shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the WCS facility in 2014. The waste was to be disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico but was diverted to the WCS site after operations at WIPP were suspended because of the February 2014 radiological release at the underground repository.
The agreement: Under an agreement signed by the DOE and TCEQ in 2015, the DOE was to remove the TRU waste from the WCS site for shipment out of Texas once WIPP resumed normal waste disposal operations. WIPP was able to resume disposal operations in January 2017 after the facility was remediated and stricter waste controls put in place.
Some of the LANL waste boxes that were shipped to WCS, however, were found to be similar to the waste drum that breached at WIPP, and those boxes no longer meet Department of Transportation shipping requirements or WIPP waste acceptance criteria.
TCEQ letter: In his letter to the DOE, Baker notes that the department submitted a draft plan with the commission for handling the LANL waste on April 1 of this year. Baker, however, said the plan only addresses the unloading and storage of the waste after it is removed from the Federal Waste Facility, with no indication of when and how the waste will be shipped off-site. “The DOE’s draft plan is not a plan to expedite the removal of the remaining LANL TRU waste in 2022. In fact, it does not address removing the waste from Texas at all,” Baker wrote.
Baker also said that TCEQ has extended the deadline for removing the waste several times to give the DOE enough time to finalize a plan for removing the waste. The latest extension ended on May 31. “The DOE must remove the LANL TRU waste from the Waste Control Specialists site in Andrews County, Texas, and transport it out of Texas no later than May 31, 2022, or else the TCEQ will initiate additional enforcement actions against the DOE,” the letter states.
WCS letter: In a May 19 follow-up letter to William “Ike” White, senior advisor for the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, David Carlson, president and chief operating officer of WCS, also urged the DOE to find a pathway for removing the waste. Carlson said that his company is “concerned that the patience of TCEQ will be exhausted absent a greater commitment by DOE to establish date certain milestones” in moving the LANL waste off-site.
Carlson continued in the letter, “I am also concerned that continued storage without a written plan for removal and in violation of the 2015 Agreed Order might well undermine the crucial fact that the material is being safely stored by WCS and may open the door to penalties against DOE.”
NRC deadlines: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an order in 2014 allowing WCS to store the LANL TRU waste at its facility until 2016. Since then, the NRC has extended that two-year deadline three times, and is currently considering another request to further extend the storage period until December 2024.
The NRC, noting that the LANL waste cannot be shipped from the WCS site because it currently does not meet DOT shipping requirements, issued an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact in the May 27 Federal Register in support of WCS’s latest request to continue storing the waste at its site.
WCS is also seeking NRC approval for a modification that will allow the company to move the LANL waste to a special purpose facility at its site for examination, testing, and preparation for off-site shipment.