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The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Report site reports have added some insight to what was happening at Area G in relation to the radiological leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad the past couple of months.
On the week of June 6, LANL management announced it will not complete the 3706 Campaign on schedule and is working to relocate all remaining campaign wastes (i.e., combustible and dispersible forms) into Dome 230 for storage under fire suppression. In addition, Area G management suspended all legacy transuranic waste repackaging, treatment, and remediation activities.
This suspension excludes drum venting, replacement of degraded components, non-destructive assay, and similar actions that improve the safety posture. That week, Area G personnel conducted a tabletop exercise involving the nitrate wastes that resulted in the identification of several important improvements. Area G and Chemistry Division personnel have also initiated development of a “safing” process to treat the nitrate salt wastes using a water addition followed by eventual cementation.
NMED spokesman Jim Winchester said “all of the consequences of the missed Framework Agreement deadline are yet to be determined. “
On the week of May 30, the site report said Area G personnel completed the relocation of the unremediated nitrate salt drums into the Dome 231 Permacon.
All known nitrate salt drums at LANL are now located in Permacons. Chemistry and Weapons Experiments division experts have also initiated an experimental program to gain an understanding on the potential formation of energetic materials involving the nitrate salts, wheat-based kitty litter, nitric acid, and a neutralizing agent that were utilized as part of the remediation process.
On the week of May 23, the site report said that LANL Director Charlie McMillan named Terry Wallace as the laboratory’s lead for coordinating efforts for the WIPP leak and the associated implications for the transuranic waste currently stored at Area G.
The site report said that LANL personnel took the following measures.
• Completed the relocation of all over-packed treated nitrate salt waste drums into a Permacon enclosure that affords fire suppression, a metal confinement structure, continuous air monitoring for airborne radioactive material, temperature control, and HEPA-filtered ventilation.
• Elected to also relocate all untreated (those without added organic kitty litter) nitrate salt waste drums into a Permacon.
• Strengthened emergency preparedness planning for the nitrate salt waste, including issuing standing orders to guide hourly operator rounds, development of a pre-incident response plan, and starting targeted walkthroughs with fire department and emergency response personnel.
• Established two independent teams of subject matter experts to review the available information, as well as initiated outreach to experts from the other national laboratories.
•Conducted a fact finding to determine whether the nitrate salts were treated and shipped in accordance with the WIPP waste acceptance criteria. Results are pending.
In the May 16 update, Area G management declared a Potential Inadequacy of the Safety Analysis (PISA) based on the unknown hazards and hazard frequency associated with nitrate salt wastes that have been treated with an organic based absorbent. During the investigation of the radioactive material release event,
“Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) personnel identified a breached drum in the underground. Based on the location, the breached drum was narrowed down to one of two drums created at LANL that contain nitrate salt waste treated with organic cat litter.
Area G management said it took immediate action to overpack a drum that is very similar to one of the suspect drums in the WIPP underground. This similar drum was created at the WCRR repackaging facility from the same parent drum as one of the suspect drums identified at WIPP.”
According to the report, the following actions and operational restrictions were identified.
• Overpack all treated nitrate salt waste drums into standard waste boxes or pipe overpack containers (action in progress on Friday)
• Relocate all treated nitrate salt waste materials to a location with a fire suppression system (action in progress on Friday)
• Perform temperature monitoring of these waste items (currently being performed daily)
• Conduct headspace sampling and analysis of the standard waste box overpacks as needed
All sampling and intrusive evaluation of treated nitrate salt waste was put on-hold pending evaluation of the PISA and identification of a safe path forward. LANL personnel continue to use a war room at Technical Area-63 to triage information and actions associated with this issue.
In the May 9 report, LANL stood up a war room to triage information and actions associated with the potential that nitrate salt waste contributed to the radioactive release event at WIPP In addition to locating and controlling drums from this waste stream, laboratory personnel began performing chemical and radiological analyses to evaluate the current conditions of these materials.
The first hint of trouble was chronicled in the May 2 report.
The report read, “the WIPP contractor declared a potential inadequacy of the safety analysis (PISA) concerning the postulated role of untreated nitrate salt waste materials contributing to the radioactive material release event. Given the nitrate salt waste originated at LANL, Area G management conducted a critique to review the situation.
“Critique participants determined about 105 waste containers potentially holding nitrate salts are currently stored at Area G. Area G management conservatively decided to control these containers as if they were unvented and transferred all of them except those currently in shipping containers and those that have not been remediated to a dome with a functional fire suppression system.
“In addition, Area G personnel will perform periodic thermography to determine the presence of any exothermic chemical reactions until the situation at WIPP is understood.”
The critique participants also discussed the processing history for these salts, which are bottoms from an evaporator used in the aqueous nitric acid process at the Plutonium Facility. They confirmed that workers treated these materials in accordance with a procedure consistent with direction from WIPP’s Difficult Waste Team.