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Nevada, federal government reach agreement over failure to correctly identify waste

Posted at 11:14 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 11:11:56-04

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) announced today that the State of Nevada has signed a Settlement Agreement and Administrative Order on Consent with the US Department of Energy (DOE) 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 (NNSS) between 2013 to 2018.

This failure resulted in the disposal of 33 packages of unapproved waste at the NNSS that were sent in 10 shipments from DOE’s Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Background: After DOE notified the State of Nevada of the potential waste disposal violations in July 2019, NDEP 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; 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.

“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.”

Key findings and highlights from NDEP’s 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 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.

Click here to view the full Settlement Agreement