CARSON CITY—The State of Nevada on Thursday signed a settlement with the U.S. Department of Energy regarding the disposal of 33 packages of unapproved low-level radioactive waste at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). The settlement requires the DOE to enhance its waste management and verification protocols and improve other processes to help prevent the shipment and disposal of unapproved waste at NNSS in the future.
“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.”
The experience to which Lovato refers is 10 shipments totaling 33 packages of unapproved waste between 2013 and 2018 from the DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to NNSS. The state notified DOE of the violations in 2019 and conducted an investigation which resulted in a “Finding of Alleged Violation and Order” issued to the DOE’s Nevada Field Office in June 2020.
NDEP officials said they finalized a settlement with the DOE after 10 months of mediation. Key findings and highlights included in the agreement and provided by NDEP are:
- 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 US 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.
- The minimal amount of unapproved waste is stable and safe in the current disposal area at the NNSS, and 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.
- Upon discovery of the potential violations in July 2019, DOE required and completed a department-wide assessment of its procedures and practices for packaging and shipping radioactive waste and has established new waste management policies and procedures to prevent waste shipment missteps from occurring in the future.
- During settlement negotiations, NDEP and DOE identified numerous technological and waste management improvements, including 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.
- NDEP will continue to closely monitor improvements to DOE’s waste management program and all related activities.