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DOE Launches Enforcement Investigation into Los Alamos TRU Waste Program

Kenneth Fletcher
WC Monitor

The Department of Energy’s Office of Enterprise Assessment late last week launched an investigation into safety
concerns with the remediation of transuranic waste drums at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which have been
linked to the radiological release that occurred early this year at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The move, which
could lead to financial penalties for the lab, comes as separately the New Mexico Environment Department is
expected to also soon take enforcement action against Los Alamos for violations related to transuranic waste
processing. The DOE Office of Enforcement’s investigation will center on “the facts and circumstances associated
with the remediation of selected transuranic waste drums at Los Alamos National Laboratory and its potential
relationship to the radiological release event” at WIPP, according to a Nov. 14 notice to LANL from Office of
Enforcement Director Steven Simonson.

LANL’s waste program has fallen under intense scrutiny focused on its processing of a highly acidic batch of
transuranic waste that also contained nitrate salts. A drum from that batch was found cracked open in the WIPP
underground and is believed to have contributed to the Feb. 14 radiological release at the site. 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 of the extremely acidic
waste containing nitrate salts. LANL has also improperly assigned waste codes to some waste sent to WIPP,
according to NMED.

New Mexico Enforcement Action Coming ‘Any Day Now’

The New Mexico Environment Department is expected to soon take enforcement action against LANL for violations
uncovered in the wake of the radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, LANL Director Charlie
McMillan told employees this week. “We anticipate a state enforcement action any day now. We expect that the
action will stem mostly from waste characterization and processing violations we discovered and reported as part
of our own internal investigation after the Los Alamos drum breached,” McMillan said in a Nov. 17 message to all
employees. “We voluntarily reported the violations to the state in July and October, and we will work with NMED to
reach resolution of the enforcement action.”

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