Jul 21, 2008

DOE still wants OK on WIPP shipments from LANL

By Kyle Marksteiner, Carlsbad Current-Argus Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — The Environmental Protection Agency is still seeking more information related to the latest errant drum shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

In June, a drum of transuranic waste with an open non-conformance report was mistakenly shipped from Los Alamos to WIPP and emplaced in the underground repository near Carlsbad.

The standard waste box holding the drum was returned to Los Alamos, but the incident sparked an investigation as to why the mistake happened and what could have prevented the error.

Shipments from other sites have resumed, but the EPA still doesn't support the resumption of shipments from LANL, according to a July 14 letter from Jonathan Edwards, acting director of the agency's Radiation Protection Division.

"We cannot yet concur with the resumption of shipment and disposal of contact-handled TRU waste containers from LANL," Edwards wrote in the letter to Dave Moody, Department of Energy manager of Carlsbad's Field Office.

Edwards said he was concerned that what happened at LANL could potentially occur at other sites "since the same processes, procedures, and many of these same personnel are involved." He requested a thorough review of Washington TRU Solutions' Central Characterization Project activities to identify any shortcomings.

On Friday, the Department of Energy sent a letter to the EPA seeking its nod in resuming shipments from Los Alamos.

"We believe we have the appropriate remedial and corrective actions in place," Moody said in an e-mail response to the Current-Argus.

Many of the EPA's specific concerns seem to relate to the drum tagging process. Containers issued non-conformance reports are supposed to be tagged. According to the EPA, a follow-up inspection of the drum in question concluded that the tag was missing, but the plastic tie and brass ring that should have held the tag were still there.

The Department of Energy is going to use new tags, Edwards wrote, but the agency still needs to provide more detailed information on the nature of the new tags to reassure everyone that the new version won't fall off.

Don Hancock, with the Southwest Research and Information Center, praised the EPA's refusal to allow shipments to resume from LANL. Hancock also stated that his organization wants all noncompliant containers separated from compliant containers to greatly reduce the chance of an incorrect shipment.

He's also requested that the EPA conduct physical inspections of other sites that ship to WIPP using the same characterization process Savannah River and Hanford to make sure adequate procedures are in place there.

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