WARD VALLEY

An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology

Committee to Review Specific Scientific and Technical Safety Issues Related to the Ward Valley, California, Low-Level Radioactive Waste Site

Board on Radioactive Waste Management

Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
WASHINGTON D.C.
1995



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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology WARD VALLEY An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology Committee to Review Specific Scientific and Technical Safety Issues Related to the Ward Valley, California, Low-Level Radioactive Waste Site Board on Radioactive Waste Management Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS WASHINGTON D.C. 1995

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Support for this study of Ward Valley was provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior, under agreement 1434-94-A-1269 (INTR/USGS). Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 95-69191 International Standard Book Number 0-309-05288-2 Additional copies of this report are available from: National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Box 285 Washington, D.C. 20055 Call 800-624-6242 or 202-334-3313 (in the Washington Metropolitan Area). B562 Copyright 1995 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Cover art by C. Etana Finkler© 1995. Ms. Finkler is a world-travelled water colorist and computer-graphics artist living in Takoma Park, Maryland. Through vividly-colored imagery, she portrays the diversity and commonality in everyday culture. Printed in the United States of America

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology COMMITTEE TO REVIEW SPECIFIC SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL SAFETY ISSUES RELATED TO THE WARD VALLEY, CALIFORNIA, LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE SITE GEORGE A. THOMPSON, Chairman, Stanford University, Stanford, California THURE E. CERLING, University of Utah, Salt Lake City G. BRENT DALRYMPLE, Oregon State University, Corvallis ROBERT D. HATCHER, JR., University of Tennessee, Knoxville/Oak Ridge National Laboratory AUSTIN LONG, University of Arizona, Tucson MARTIN D. MIFFLIN, Mifflin and Associates, Incorporated, Las Vegas, Nevada JUNE ANN OBERDORFER, San Jose State University, San Jose, California KATHLEEN C. PARKER, University of Georgia, Athens DUNCAN T. PATTEN, Arizona State University, Tempe DENNIS W. POWERS, Consulting Geologist, Canutillo, Texas STEPHEN J. REYNOLDS, Arizona State University, Tempe JOHN B. ROBERTSON, HydroGeoLogic, Incorporated, Herndon, Virginia BRIDGET R. SCANLON, University of Texas, Austin LESLIE SMITH, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada BRUCE A. TSCHANTZ, University of Tennessee, Knoxville SCOTT TYLER, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada PETER J. WIERENGA, University of Arizona, Tucson Staff INA B. ALTERMAN, Study Director CARL A. ANDERSON, BRWM Director KEVIN D. CROWLEY, Associate Director REBECCA BURKA, Administrative Assistant ELIZABETH M. LANDRIGAN, Technical Assistant

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology BOARD ON RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT MICHAEL C. KAVANAUGH, Chairman, ENVIRON Corporation, Emeryville, California B. JOHN GARRICK, Vice-Chairman, PLG, Incorporated, Newport Beach, California JOHN F. AHEARNE, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina JEAN M. BAHR, University of Wisconsin, Madison LYNDA L. BROTHERS, Davis Wright Tremaine, Seattle, Washington SOL BURSTEIN, Wisconsin Electric Power, Milwaukee (retired) MELVIN W. CARTER, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta (emeritus) PAUL P. CRAIG, University of California, Davis (emeritus) MARY R. ENGLISH, University of Tennessee, Knoxville ROBERT D. HATCHER, JR., University of Tennessee, Knoxville/Oak Ridge National Laboratory DARLEANE C. HOFFMAN, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California H. ROBERT MEYER, Keystone Scientific, Inc., Fort Collins, Colorado PERRY L. McCARTY, Stanford University, Stanford, California CHARLES McCOMBIE, National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Wettingen, Switzerland PRISCILLA P. NELSON, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia D. KIRK NORDSTROM, U.S. Geological Survey, Boulder, Colorado D. WARNER NORTH, Decision Focus, Incorporated, Mountain View, California GLENN PAULSON, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago PAUL SLOVIC, Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon BENJAMIN L. SMITH, Independent Consultant, Columbia, Tennessee Staff CARL A. ANDERSON, Staff Director KEVIN D. CROWLEY, Associate Director INA B. ALTERMAN, Senior Staff Officer ROBERT S. ANDREWS, Senior Staff Officer KARYANIL T. THOMAS, Senior Staff Officer THOMAS E. KIESS, Staff Officer VERNA J. BOWEN, Administrative Assistant REBECCA BURKA, Administrative Assistant LISA J. CLENDENING, Administrative Assistant DENNIS L. DUPREE, Administrative Assistant PATRICIA A. JONES, Project Assistant ELIZABETH M. LANDRIGAN, Technical Assistant

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology COMMISSION ON GEOSCIENCES, ENVIRONMENT, AND RESOURCES M. GORDON WOLMAN, Chairman, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland PATRICK R. ATKINS, Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania EDITH BROWN WEISS, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C. JAMES P. BRUCE, Canadian Climate Program Board, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada WILLIAM L. FISHER, University of Texas, Austin EDWARD A. FRIEMAN, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, University of Virginia, Charlottesville W. BARCLAY KAMB, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena PERRY L. MCCARTY, Stanford University, Stanford, California S. GEORGE PHILANDER, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey RAYMOND A. PRICE, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada THOMAS C. SCHELLING, University of Maryland, College Park ELLEN SILBERGELD, University of Maryland Medical School, Baltimore, Maryland STEVEN M. STANLEY, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland VICTORIA J. TSCHINKEL, Landers and Parsons, Tallahassee, Florida Staff STEPHEN RATTIEN, Executive Director STEPHEN PARKER, Associate Executive Director MORGAN GOPNIK, Assistant Executive Director JIM MALLORY, Administrative Officer SANDI FITZPATRICK, Administrative Associate

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Silences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and of advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology Table of Contents     Executive Summary   1     Introduction   1     Major Conclusions Regarding the Seven Issues   2 1.   Introduction   15     Federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act   16     The Ward Valley Controversy   19     Committee Declaration   24     References   25 2.   Setting of the Ward Valley Site   27     Location   27     General Facility Description   27     Regional Geologic Setting   32     Pre-Miocene Geologic History   35     Geomorphology   45     Subsurface Geophysical Data   46     Surface-Water Hydrology   52     Hydrogeology   53     Ecology   54     References   56 3.   Recharge Through the Unsaturated Zone   63     The Wilshire Group Position   63     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   63     The Committee's Approach   64     The Nature of Water Movement in the Unsaturated Zone   64     The Nature, Direction, and Magnitude of Water Flux Beneath the Ward Valley Site   73     Environmental Tracers as Indicators of Soil-Water Movement   77     Evidence for Recharge to the Ground Water Beneath the Site   94     Summary of Conclusions of Subissues 3, 4, and 5   105     Adequacy of the Performance-Assessment Modeling   106     Summary of Conclusions   111     Recommendations   115     References   117 4.   Infiltration and Lateral Flow   123     The Wilshire Group Position   123     The DHS/U. S. Ecology Position   123     The Committee's Approach   123     Lateral Flow Under Natural and Enhanced Rainfall Conditions at Arid Sites   124

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology     Lateral Flow Under Ponded Conditions at Arid Sites   128     Lateral Flow in Engineered Systems at Arid Sites   129     Conclusions   130     References   131 5.   Ground-water Pathways to the Colorado River   133     The Wilshire Group Position   133     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   136     The Committee's Approach   138     Review of Pathways   143     The Magnitude of Potential Impacts of Long-Lived Radionuclide Migration from the Site to the Colorado River   145     Summary of Conclusions   149     References   149 6.   Subsurface Monitoring Program   151     The Wilshire Group Position   151     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   151     The Committee's Approach   152     The Performance Monitoring Plan for the Unsaturated Zone   152     Performance Monitoring of the Unsaturated Zone   153     Summary and Conclusions   161     The Compliance Monitoring Plan for the Saturated Zone   162     References   167 7.   Flood Control and Engineering Considerations   169     The Wilshire Group Position   169     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   169     The Committee's Approach   170     Description of Proposed Facilities   170     Hydrological Setting   175     Design Criteria   182     Geomorphic Evidence of Erosional Stability   187     Conclusions: Adequacy of Proposed Flood Protection System Design   189     References   192 8.   The Desert Tortoise   195     The Wilshire Group Position   195     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   195     The Committee's Approach   195     Assessment of the Plan to Remediate Potential Impacts   199     Conclusions and Recommendations   203     References   205 9.   Revegetation   209     The Wilshire Group Position   209     The DHS/U.S. Ecology Position   209     The Committee's Approach   209     Conclusions and Recommendations   211     References   211

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology     Appendices     Appendix A -   The Committee's Charge   A-1 Appendix B -   Classification of Wastes   B-1 Appendix C -   General Table of Common Conversions   C-1 Appendix D -   Glossary of Terms   D-1 Appendix E -   Dissenting Statement on Issue 1   E-1 Appendix F -   Dissenting Statement on Issues 1 and 7   F-1 Appendix G -   Biographical Sketches of Committee Members   G-1 Figures and Tables Figure 2.1   Location map of Ward Valley proposed facility site   28 Figure 2.2   Geologic map of the region around Ward Valley   29 Figure 2.3   Topographic map with location of the site, Homer Wash, the relevant drainage area, and the interstate I-40   30 Figure 2.4   Relationship of various proposed Ward Valley site boundaries, and location of proposed and existing monitoring wells   31 Figure 2.5   The main facilities   33 Table 2.1   Geologic time scale   34 Figure 2.6   Interpretive geologic cross section across the Ward Valley site and the Colorado River valley at Needles   37 Figure 2.7   Block diagram of a typical metamorphic core complex   38 Figure 2.8   Interpretive model for the evolution of detachment faults and metamorphic core complexes   39 Figure 2.9   Cross section of the Ward Valley site   41 Figure 2.10   Seismic setting of Ward Valley-map of earthquakes in the region   43

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology Figure 2.11   Well boring logs of alluvial sediments showing the character and variability of fan deposits   44 Figure 2.12   Bedrock surface topography in Ward Valley derived from geophysical data   49 Figure 2.13   Longitudinal geologic sections through Ward Valley based on geologic, gravity, well, and seismic-reflection data   50 Figure 3.1   Variation in water content on an alluvial fan along a 3 km transect in the Jornada Range in southern New Mexico   66 Figure 3.2   The relationship of the equilibrium matric potential to height above the water table   71 Figure 3.3   Schematic depth profiles of chloride concentration in soil water   79 Figure 3.4   Chloride concentrations in pore water of unsaturated sediments from three boreholes at the Ward Valley site   82 Table 3.1   Tritium results for unsaturated zone soil vapor   86 Figure 3.5   The isotopic composition of well water from the Ward Valley site in 1989   99 Table 3.2   Regression data and calculated recharge temperature at Ward Valley   101 Figure 4.1   Advance of the wetting front with time   126 Figure 5.1   Postulated ground-water pathways from Ward Valley to the Colorado River   134 Figure 6.1   Schematic diagram of trench cover and monitoring islands   154 Figure 6.2   Details of Section 34 with location of site, wells, and borings   164 Figure 7.1   LLRW disposal site showing original topography   171 Figure 7.2   LLRW disposal site showing finished grade contours   172 Figure 7.3   Typical south-north (BB') and west-east (CC') cross sections through trench   173 Figure 7.4   Schematic plan view of temporary breakup berms   176 Table 7.1   Homer Wash sub-basin hydrologic summary   179 Figure 8.1   Desert Wildlife Management Areas (DWMAs)   197