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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