McMillan reacts to EM taking over cleanup

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By The Staff

Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan sent an email to employees Friday, announcing four Los Alamos National Laboratory workers have been reassigned and the Department of Energy has pulled nuclear waste cleanup operations from the contractor that runs the lab after a barrel of waste packed at Los Alamos leaked.
The email obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor read: “the laboratory today is implementing a number of measures aimed at supporting the Department of Energy’s objectives to reopen the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) repository near Carlsbad.
“Among the actions are changes in our leadership responsible for managing our environmental cleanup and transuranic waste operations. I have asked Deputy Associate Director Enrique (Kiki) Torres to serve as acting lead for our Environmental Programs while the Lab works with DOE to develop a path forward.
“These actions come after a number of internal investigations and reviews since the February discovery of a leak underground at WIPP from a waste drum that originated here at Los Alamos. Although the exact causes of the leak are still under investigation, I have determined that today’s changes are necessary now as part of our continued recovery actions.
“In addition, DOE has announced its intent to transition oversight of legacy environmental cleanup work from NNSA to DOE-EM. I have very few details on how this action will proceed, but I will continue to keep you updated. I will ensure that Los Alamos will do whatever is needed to ensure a smooth transition, and that includes maintaining safe and secure environmental program operations until the transition is complete. We are fully committed to working with the State of New Mexico and DOE throughout this process.
“It is time for us to be introspective and self-critical to ensure we fully learn from this event. In the coming days and weeks, we will be taking additional actions to ensure we address the underlying causes and strengthen our processes to prevent future upsets or events.
“Understanding the breached drum at WIPP continues to be a significant challenge to the Laboratory, but I believe we have our best people working on these issues. I ask for your continued support as we work through this recovery together. This is our obligation to the community, the state, and to our national security mission. “The leak contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation and indefinitely shuttered the government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of nuclear bomb building.
Four managers in the lab’s environmental and transuranic waste program were also reassigned, officials said.
The NS&D Monitor reported that the managers relieved of their duties were Dan Cox, LANL deputy associate director of environmental programs, Jeff Mousseau, associate director of environmental programs, Kathy Johns-Hughes, Director of the LANL TRU Program, Tori George, program director for regulatory management.
 Officials have yet to pinpoint what caused the barrel of waste from Los Alamos to breach Feb. 14 in one of the half-mile deep rooms at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. One theory has focused on a chemical reaction in highly acidic waste that was packed with a lead glove and organic cat litter to absorb moisture.
Officials have said a switch by Los Alamos from inorganic to organic cat litter may have helped fuel the “heat event” that popped the lid off the barrel. As the investigation continues, hundreds of other barrels of Los Alamos waste with similar contents and organic cat litter are being closely monitored at Los Alamos, WIPP and a temporary site in West Texas.
At the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, officials are working on a plan to decontaminate the mine and seal off the rooms with the suspect waste. Moniz has said it could take up to three years to reopen the multi-billion-dollar site.
The New Mexico Environment Department also weighed in.
“The department feels Environmental Management is better equipped to handle the complexities of environmental cleanup at generator sites,” NMED spokesman Jim Winchester in a statement released to the Santa Fe New Mexican. “The New Mexico Environment Department had been pushing DOE to make this change for a long time.”