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This BLOG is for LLNL present and past employees, friends of LLNL and anyone impacted by the privatization of the Lab to express their opinions and expose the waste, wrongdoing and any kind of injustice against employees and taxpayers by LLNS/DOE/NNSA. The opinions stated are personal opinions. Therefore, The BLOG author may or may not agree with them before making the decision to post them. Comments not conforming to BLOG rules are deleted. Blog author serves as a moderator. For new topics or suggestions, email jlscoob5@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LANL’s incompetent handling of waste

[Los Alamos Study Group]
 Press release: DOE Inspector General releases scathing report about LANL’s incompetent handling of waste, leading to WIPP shutdown
For Immediate Release October 1, 2014
DOE Inspector General releases scathing report about LANL’s incompetent handling of waste, leading to WIPP shutdown
Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 office, 505-577-8563 cell
Albuquerque, NM – Today the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General (IG) released a scathing “Management Alert” from their investigation into the role of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in causing the contamination and shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). 
The Los Alamos Study Group filed a detailed formal request with the DOE IG to investigate these issues on July 15, 2014.  Today’s IG report is partly responsive to that request. 
After noting that a LANL-created drum burst at WIPP, causing significant impacts not just at WIPP but at transuranic (TRU) waste generating sites around the country, the DOE IG found that:
* Despite specific direction to the contrary, LANL made procedural changes that did not conform to DOE technical guidance.
* LANL and its subcontractors mixed “potentially incompatible materials” to chemically-hazardous TRU waste that contained oxidizers (nitrate salts), namely organic absorbents (organic kitty litter and before that, organic polymer) as well as certain acid neutralizers.
* LANL’s waste processing and safety control procedures were inadequate, leading to the creation of mixtures which were “inherently hazardous.”
* LANL “did not consider readily available information on chemical reactions,” including an EPA case study on mixing oxidizers with organic or combustible materials which noted that “common references” warn against such mixtures. 
* LANL somehow added the “organic” to the description of acceptable absorbent, violating recent (2012) detailed DOE/LANL/WIPP guidance for this particular waste stream.  LANL didn’t run its procedures past subject matter experts or the WIPP team that was set up to resolve issues with difficult waste streams such as this one.  Neither did LANL consult with its own safety organizations.  Instead, LANL’s review was focused on compliance with environmental permits alone. 
* Yet, [oddly,] LANL had halted processing of this waste stream in 2012 “because of the possible dangers of mixing organic materials with nitrates,” [suggesting that at least some LANL managers as well as other people in the waste program understood these dangers]. 
* LANL also approved the use of an acid neutralizer that included an ingredient that was “highly reactive” with oxidizers and therefore “potentially incompatible with nitrate salts stored in the drums.”  This neutralizer was added to “the majority of drums” in this waste stream.
* According to LANL’s permit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), waste processing should have stopped if the waste involved was a hazardous waste for multiple reasons (was “assigned multiple EPA hazardous waste codes”). 
* LANL has subsequently “tentatively” reclassified hundreds of drums as potentially ignitable and/or corrosive, “which may pose previously unrecognized safety issues.”[1] 
The IG also made recommendations for immediate steps DOE and LANL could take to improve TRU waste at LANL.  These recommendations were accepted in detail by Frank Klotz, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on behalf of DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, to whom the Alert was sent. 
The DOE’s Accident Investigation Board is expected to complete its own review of the WIPP incident before the end of the year.    
Study Group director Greg Mello was the first state hazardous waste official to inspect LANL, in 1984.  Mello: “We are pleased that this report correctly identifies the central role of LANL in causing the contamination and shutdown of WIPP, which DOE now estimates to last about two years and cost up to one-half billion dollars or more.  That will be the minimum.  Expensive operational limitations are likely at WIPP henceforth.   
“The violations of established well-procedures and lack of common chemical knowledge are shocking.  The report, as well as other information available to the Study Group, describe an insular, stove-piped, highly-bureaucratized corporate culture that did not access or use its own technical expertise or that of others.
“The IG report hints at, but does not discuss, the knowledge LANL had about the dangers of mixing organic materials with nitrate salt waste drums.   LANL halted processing these drums over just this issue, but inexplicably resumed in August 2012, mixing finely-divided organic material with a witch’s brew of unknown nitrate salts and acids, by the pallet-load. 
“The IG report is silent about what LANL knew when.  Did LANL know about the dangers of mixing and shipping what the DOE IG correctly calls “inherently hazardous” combinations of chemicals, which “common references” warn against?  Was LANL rushing to meet its June 30 deadline for the sake of profits and incentive pay?
“The IG report is also silent about accountability for this huge fiasco.  Will the for-profit private company that manages LANL, LANS, be forced to pay for any of the hundreds of millions of dollars that these failures have cost the taxpayers? Will LANS be awarded another year of managing LANL as if nothing happened, with no actual penalty except a few million dollars less profit?  Indeed will LANS be able to keep its contract at all, in the face of this incompetence and the resulting tremendous costs, the full scope of which is as yet unknown? 
“LANL has admitted violating its operating permit.  Under RCRA, the person who must be held responsible for this is the managing director of the site, Charlie McMillan.  Is LANS so powerful that Dr. McMillan is now above responsibility for “petty” matters like waste management? 
“NNSA’s response to this report is very far from adequate.  It basically consists of adding more bureaucratic complexity and rules, instead of actually using the management tools available to NNSA.  The LANS contract needs to be renegotiated, at a minimum.  If NNSA’s response to this incident continues the “forward-looking” approach of the DOE IG, and ignores accountability, it will only be a short time before LANS produces another fiasco, something this contractor is now doing on a regular basis.” 
Suggestions for NNSA laboratory management reform can be found here: LASG comments to the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories (CRENEL), Sep 26, 2014.
***ENDS***


[1] On August 29, New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ryan Flynn directed LANL to resume daily monitoring of the potentially explosive gases which have been building up in two containers at LANL stored at Area G near White Rock, NM.  LANL had inexplicably halted daily monitoring despite knowing that hydrogen levels in one of the containers had reached 70% of the lower explosive limit (LEL).  See “Gas buildup in waste drum prompts state order to Los Alamos,” George Lobsenz, Energy Daily, 9/26/14. 

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any yet nobody at LANL is being fired? This is a laundry list of pure incompetence with extremely dangerous materials. When will someone be fired? When? And I don't mean some low level scapegoat worker. The managers who oversee this need to go, as in no longer employed at LANL. Not transferred to another cushy management position. Lab scientists always call the national labs the "crown jewels" of the U.S. government. Looks like the labs are more like the detritus. But firing incompetent managers and finding capable ones is a start to fix the poor performance.

Anonymous said...

LANSLLNS managers have no skin in the game. All conduct, risks, or bets, are backed by the "house". A sweetheart deal for these managers, but not for the country.

On the way up, its all about the profit and decision secrecy based on an alleged "for profit" business model. On the way down, these managers are shrouded in protection with attorneys paid for with taxpayer dollars to defend against contractor mismanagement. Time for a contractor reset before the next blunder.

Anonymous said...

How is it possible for Charlie to stay after another major blunder? How is it possible for NNSA not to change the contract after the past few years of blunders?

Anonymous said...

How is it possible for Charlie to stay after another major blunder?

October 2, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Charlie serves at the pleasure of the LANS Board of Directors. Obviously they haven't felt enough displeasure yet, or if they have, the decision has not yet been communicated.

As for NNSA's possible actions, the prime contract requires a certain amount of due process once they've decided to do something.

I'll bet $.50 there is furious argument and negotiating going on behind the scenes right now.

Anonymous said...

"...How is it possible for Charlie to stay after another major blunder? How is it possible for NNSA not to change the contract after the past few years of blunders?..."

If the "LANS incompetent handling of waste leading to the WIPP shutdown" doesn't breach minimal contractor stewardship expectations and gross mismanagement criteria prompting a contractor change, then what would? This does not inspire the public trust and makes contractor performance criteria a joke.

Anonymous said...

If the "LANS incompetent handling of waste leading to the WIPP shutdown" doesn't breach minimal contractor stewardship expectations and gross mismanagement criteria prompting a contractor change, then what would?

October 2, 2014 at 3:54 PM

There are no words like "minimal contractor stewardship expectations and gross mismanagement criteria" in the NNSA/LANS Prime Contract. Sorry for your starry-eyed expectations. Try getting real.

Anonymous said...

Charlie serves at the pleasure of the LANS Board of Directors...

As for NNSA's possible actions, the prime contract requires a certain amount of due process once they've decided to do something.


Well there was some process as NNSA told the LLNS BoG that having Parney serve was not a pleasure, but I'm not sure it was due.

Anonymous said...

NNSA can put pressure on the LANSLLNS Board to oust the Director, all things are possible under the table and behind closed doors. But to actually do something formal about the contract, forms must be followed.

Anonymous said...

"... Sorry for your starry-eyed expectations. Try getting real..."

What is "real" is the LANS colossal screw up. What remains elusive is the penalty for it. This was the message. Your effort to deflect attention away from that point is very transparent.

Anonymous said...

"...But to actually do something formal about the contract, forms must be followed..."

Would a contractor change yield anything beyond the formation of a LANS 2.0 LLC? As the incumbent, LANSLLNS is rooted in.

Anonymous said...

If LANS loses the contract for "gross mismanagement," LANS 2.0 would probably not include UC as a "parent company." You decide whether that would be good or bad.

Anonymous said...

The decision about changing LANL contractors will give some insight as to how Klotz views the current situation. The forces that want to keep it unchanged will tout the enduring UC connection and the debacle of the recent Y-12 contract change as reasons to leave it as is. Klotz should listen to all sides and then make the decision based on what is best for the country.

Anonymous said...

All these violations are consistent with violations of the Price Anderson Act which are tied to fines and jail time. It will be nice to see McMillan in a orange striped suit instead of his Armani pin-striped suits.

Anonymous said...

The IG report is unusually specific in how it defines the multiple failures of LANL, and as such must sting the leaders. In order to rebut the facts, Wallace has worked up a story that the probability of the LANL drum explosion is about the same as having the moon break orbit and cascade away from the earth. It is a transparent attempt to reduce the impact of the facts of the failures and deflect the story. Now we will see if NMED and NNSA swallow the spin or if they stick to the facts in making their upcoming decisions about LANL.

Anonymous said...

Why was the possibility of a hydrogen explosion ruled-out by Wallace and his "crack" chemists? Why? Because there is no interesting chemistry and more importantly, LANS can't "follow the money" in this simple explanation. Wallace has the government "snookered"!

Anonymous said...

...a story that the probability of the LANL drum explosion is about the same as having the moon break orbit and cascade away from the earth.

It sounds like they may have several hundred experiments running right now in WIP. If another drum burps, there goes the 'black swan' attribution.

Anonymous said...

One month ago LANS took drum residue samples from inside the WIPP room where the drum exploded. Hello LANS, it been at least a month. What are the results?! This is a real "cluster"!

Anonymous said...

You have no need to know.

Anonymous said...

October 12, 2014 at 10:27 AM, the samples you describe were sent directly to Savannah River, WIPP's analytical support lab. LANL does not have them.

Anonymous said...

October 12, 2014 at 10:27 AM, the samples you describe were sent directly to Savannah River, WIPP's analytical support lab. LANL does not have them.

October 17, 2014 at 8:48 PM

I understand why. Plausible deniability by LANS. Regardless, I'm sure the results will be "inconclusive", which gives LANL continued funding to pursue "Wallace via Chavez" chemistry experiments now numbering in the several thousands.

Anonymous said...

I understand why.

October 19, 2014 at 7:50 AM

No, you obviously don't, despite the fact that October 17, 2014 at 8:48 PM told you why: SRS is WIPP's analytical support lab. I know conspiracy theorists tend not to be very logical, but you could at least try to refute the fact you don't like and wish would go away.

Anonymous said...

This is another example of why retention and support of almost all branches of science is required to support the stockpile. You never know where the problems will come from.

It is also noteworthy that management expertise and a culture of openness and excellence is helpful to support programmatic and safety objectives together.

The development of each requires more funds, meaningful endeavors (RRW designs and resumption of testing) and hands off by micromanaging overseers of NNSA/DOE.

The old lab ways are best... Nanos and Pryzbylek be damned.

Anonymous said...

the old ways are damned... Nanos and Pryzbylek are beatified..

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