On Thursday, Nevada announced details of the settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy over low-level radioactive waste that was incorrectly identified and shipped from Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge to DOE’s Nevada National Security Site northwest of Las Vegas between 2013 and 2018.
Oak Ridge Today first reported about the settlement agreement on Wednesday. The Nevada announcement on Thursday provided additional information.
Here is Nevada’s announcement:
Settlement agreement includes new waste management practices and procedures, and other proactive measures to help prevent disposal of unapproved waste in the future.
The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection announced today (Thursday, July 8) that the State of Nevada has signed a settlement agreement and administrative order on consent with the U.S. Department of Energy addressing DOE’s failure to correctly identify low-level radioactive waste shipped to and disposed of in Nevada at DOE’s Nevada National Security Site between 2013 to 2018. This failure resulted in disposal of 33 packages of unapproved waste at the NNSS that were sent in 10 shipments from DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
DOE notified the State of Nevada of the potential waste disposal violations in July 2019. After that, NDEP said it moved quickly to initiate and complete a comprehensive investigation evaluating the full scope of violations that occurred. Based on its findings, NDEP determined that disposal of the unapproved waste was in violation of state regulations and permit requirements governing waste disposal at the NNSS, the announcement said. Therefore, in June 2020, NDEP issued a finding of alleged violation and order to DOE’s Nevada Field Office, which ordered DOE to complete all necessary corrective actions under NDEP’s oversight.
Ultimately, NDEP’s investigation results and subsequent 10-month mediation with DOE culminated in the June 2021 settlement agreement, requiring DOE to implement enhanced waste management and verification protocols and other process improvements to help prevent unapproved waste from being shipped to and disposed of at the NNSS in the future, the announcement said.
“As part of our mission, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is committed to ensuring the health, safety, and wellbeing of all Nevadans, and protecting our state’s natural resources,” said NDEP Administrator Greg Lovato. “Although DOE’s unapproved waste disposal was an unfortunate misstep, we are thankful that this experience has helped lead the way to significant improvements that will further protect public health and the natural environment for generations to come. I thank all of the state and federal officials for their collaborative efforts to enhance DOE’s waste management program, which will continue to be closely monitored by NDEP.”
NDEP said the key findings and highlights from its review of the complete set of information regarding the unapproved waste disposal that are reflected in the June 2021 agreement include the following:
- NDEP determined that DOE violated a solid waste permit requirement, in that DOE failed to ensure that the physical and chemical characteristics of the waste were accurately documented. Specifically, the waste contained material not included in the approved waste profile.
- The settlement agreement addresses potential violations that were identified by EPA and referred to NDEP for resolution in April 2021. These potential violations pertained to waste shipped from Y-12 to the NNSS, and unrelated issues related to groundwater monitoring at the NNSS, and the waste analysis plan for waste disposed of at the NNSS.
The agreement includes the following improvements to fully address and resolve these potential violations identified by EPA:
- an updated process has been established at the Y-12 facility to prevent future shipments of unapproved waste;
- additional sampling and analysis of contaminants;
- an additional groundwater monitoring well, pending future disposal capacity; and
- modification of a state-issued permit to provide clarification and additional requirements for analyses of waste prior to disposal.
NDEP said the minimal amount of unapproved waste that was sent to NNSS is stable and safe in the current disposal area, and it does not pose a risk to site workers, public health, or the environment. “As such, the waste will remain and be closed in place at this time in accordance with state, federal, and permit regulations, and will be closely monitored by NNSS and NDEP staff to ensure continued compliance,” the announcement said.
When the potential violations were discovered in July 2019, DOE required and completed a department-wide assessment of its procedures and practices for packaging and shipping radioactive waste, the announcement said. The department has also established new waste management policies and procedures to prevent waste shipment missteps from occurring in the future, the announcement said.
It said NDEP and DOE identified numerous technological and waste management improvements during settlement negotiations. Those included additional chemical and physical waste screenings and sampling, increased oversight at sites that generate waste, and more clearly defining and specifying waste streams approved for disposal.
The announcement said NDEP will continue to closely monitor improvements to DOE’s waste management program and all related activities.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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