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DOE Breaking Out Cleanup Work at Los Alamos, LANL Cleanup Managers Relieved of Duties

Kenneth Fletcher
WC Monitor

As the Department of Energy moves to shift responsibility for cleanup work at Los Alamos National Laboratory to the DOE Office of Environmental Management, four LANL cleanup managers late this week were relieved of their duties in a major management change following issues with the site’s transuranic waste program. The cleanup mission at Los Alamos has been the focus of heavy scrutiny after a drum processed at LANL was tied to the Feb. 14 radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and New Mexico’s environmental regulator has called for the Los Alamos cleanup mission to be moved from the National Nuclear Security Administration to EM. This week, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz directed EM and the NNSA to “develop a plan for the transition of legacy environmental cleanup work at the Department's Los Alamos site from NNSA to EM,” acting EM Assistant Secretary Mark Whitney said in a message to stakeholders.

The exact contract vehicle or vehicles to be used for breaking out the work remain unclear, but will be addressed in the transition plan that is expected to be completed in mid-November. “This change will align the focus and accountability of the cleanup with EM and enable the Los Alamos site prime contractor, Los Alamos National Security (LANS), to continue its focus on the core national security missions at the site,” Whitney said. “EM and NNSA will work together to evaluate all elements necessary for an effective transition, including federal oversight, acquisition strategies, and quality, safety and security.”

Four LANL Managers Out

LANL Director Charlie McMillan this week relieved four managers of their duties in relation to the site’s waste processing problems, WC Monitor has learned. The impacted managers include Jeff Mousseau, associate director of environmental programs, Dan Cox, LANL deputy associate director of environmental programs, Kathy Johns-Hughes, director of the LANL TRU Program and Tori George, program director for regulatory management. LANL referred requests for comment to DOE headquarters, which declined to comment.

In July, the New Mexico Environment Department cited LANL for treating some WIPP-bound waste without the proper permit. While LANL is allowed to process waste under its permit, it cannot take further steps that would be considered treating the waste. The noncompliances involved adding neutralizers and absorbents to some extremely acidic waste containing nitrate salts. LANL has also improperly assigned waste codes to some waste sent to WIPP, according to NMED. Additionally, NMED has experienced communications issues.

Notably, the management changes at Los Alamos are the first to involve outright removal of personnel in response to the WIPP incidents. URS demoted the former head of WIPP contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership, Farok Sharif, to TRU Waste Program project manager and brought in Bob McQuinn as NWP’s new president in response to the WIPP release and an earlier Feb. 5 truck fire at the site. NWP also brought in Jim Blankenhorn as recovery manager for WIPP. So far there have been no major DOE management changes as a result of the events.

Cleanup Work Part of EM’s ‘Core Mission,’ New Mexico Regulator Says

As a condition for the restart of WIPP operations, the New Mexico Environment Department has called for LANL cleanup work to be managed by EM rather than NNSA. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn said that numerous issues encountered at the LANL cleanup could be resolved by moving that mission under EM. “NNSA should not be in the business of cleaning up the legacy waste at the sites,” he said in remarks at this year’s RadWaste Summit, held earlier this month outside of Las Vegas. “The money is already coming from the EM program, so EM sends NNSA the money but they don’t get to determine how to spend the money for the cleanup. I believe very strongly that EM needs to be given control of legacy waste cleanup because it’s part of their core mission and because they are already funding the cleanup.”

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