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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT Summary The National Research Council convened a committee of experts to advise the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the operation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a geologic repository for disposal of defense transuranic (TRU) waste near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The committee was asked to provide recommendations on the following two issues: (1) a research agenda to enhance confidence in the long-term performance of WIPP; and (2) increasing the throughput, efficiency, and cost-benefit without compromising safety of the National TRU Program for characterizing, certifying, packaging, and shipping waste to WIPP. The committee has written this interim report to provide DOE with recommendations on several issues that the committee believes merit immediate consideration and action. In developing this report, the committee has been guided by the principle of “reasonableness” with respect to risks, costs, and the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principle. In the committee's judgment, implementing the recommendations contained in this report will contribute to the continued safe operation of WIPP. The committee will provide a more comprehensive response to its task statement (see the Preface) in the final report, which is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2001. Research to Enhance Confidence in Long-Term Repository Performance There has been extensive monitoring of radioactivity in the air, soils, fluvial sediments, surface water, and shallow groundwater in the area surrounding WIPP. However, the committee has determined that radiological baseline information is not available for subsurface brines and hydrocarbons near the WIPP site. This baseline information is important for environmental monitoring in the operational and post-operational phases of the repository. Recommendation: The committee recommends that DOE should develop and implement a plan to sample oil-field brines, petroleum, and solids associated with current hydrocarbon production to assess the magnitude and variability of naturally occurring radioactive material
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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT (NORM) in the vicinity of the WIPP site. Samples should be collected and analyzed for the radionuclides that will be present in transuranic waste emplaced at WIPP and the radionuclides common in NORM. These sampies should be archived to permit subsequent analysis for constituents that may be of interest in the future. The committee recommends that a sampling plan be implemented prior to the closure of any underground rooms in WIPP that contain TRU waste. Improvements to the National TRU Program The National TRU Program is administered by the DOE Carlsbad Area Office and is designed to meet all applicable external regulations and internal requirements associated with the characterization, certification, packaging, and transportation of waste to WIPP. A reasonable goal for the National TRU Program is to send DOE TRU waste to WIPP at a minimum risk (from all sources of risk, including radiological exposure and highway accidents) and cost. The current system for managing TRU wastes does not achieve this goal. The committee recommends that waste management procedures be reviewed and revised, with reduction of risk and cost as the guiding principles. The committee offers recommendations in this interim report to improve the following three aspects of the National TRU Program: (1) waste characterization and packaging requirements, (2) gas generation, and (3) the transportation system. Waste Characterization and Packaging Requirements The committee found inadequate legal or safety bases for some of the National TRU Program requirements and specifications. That is, some waste characterization specifications have no basis in law, the safe conduct of operations to emplace waste in WIPP, or long-term performance requirements. The National TRU Program waste characterization procedures involve significant resources (e.g., expenditures of several billion dollars) and potential for exposure of workers to radiation and other hazards. Insofar as some of this waste characterization may be unnecessary, such characterization is inconsistent with economic efficiency or the ALARA principle that guides radiation protection practices. Recommendation: DOE should eliminate self-imposed waste characterization requirements that lack a legal or safety basis. One way to justify a reduction in waste characterization requirements is through implementation of joint U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidance (62 Federal Register 62079; see Appendix B), which appears to the committee to provide appropriate guidelines for implementation and integration of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements for mixed TRU waste. Another way to justify a reduction is to identify the origins of all waste characterization requirements and to eliminate those requirements that lack a technical or safety basis. Such reductions may require modifications to exist-
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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT ing permits granted by external regulating authorities such as the Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico Environment Department. Gas Generation The extreme assumptions used in DOE's current gas generation model results in gross overestimates of hydrogen (H2) concentrations in waste packages to be shipped to WIPP. As a consequence, DOE plans to repackage some of the waste to dilute the hydrogen-producing components. These repackaging operations result in additional risks of radiation exposure to workers and highway accidents, the latter due to the increased number of truckload shipments required to transport waste in diluted form. Recommendations: DOE should derive a more realistic radiolytic gas generation model, validate it through confirmatory testing, use the results to recalculate gas generation limits, and seek regulatory approval to implement them. DOE should perform a safety analysis to determine the concentration and quantity of hydrogen that, upon ignition, could damage the seals of the TRUPACT-II shipping container. The goal of the safety analysis would be to demonstrate whether such an event could occur inside a waste package, and whether the energy associated with such an event could result in rupturing the containment provided by the TRUPACT-II. This analysis could provide the rationale to obtain relief from the 5 percent hydrogen flammability limit and should form the basis for a future modification to the present TRUPACT-II license. DOE should consider technical approaches for reducing hazards from hydrogen generation, such as filling the headspace of the waste containers or the shipping containers with an inert gas. DOE should reevaluate the technical and regulatory feasibility of shipping high-wattage TRU waste using a railcar shipping system. The goal of these recommendations is to expedite the transport of TRU waste to WIPP by increasing the amount of waste that can be safely carried in each truckload or trainload, without compromising the level of safety and containment that is provided by the shipping container. These recommended options would reduce the number of truckloads required to transport the waste to WIPP and the associated transportation risks. Transportation Communication and Notification DOE bases its system of communication and notification on the TRANSportation tracking and COMmunication (TRANSCOM) system, a satellite-based system initially developed more than a decade ago and used to track all DOE shipments of radioactive materials. Users have found the current level of performance of TRANSCOM to be less than
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IMPROVING OPERATIONS AND LONG-TERM SAFETY OF THE WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT: INTERIM REPORT fully reliable. Although efforts are being made by DOE to keep the system current, it has not kept pace with the rapid development of information technology. As a result, the TRANSCOM system is obsolete when compared to presently available communications systems. Recommendations: DOE should consider cost-effective ways to improve the reliability and ease of use of the TRANSCOM system, either by improving or replacing it. If DOE decides to replace the current system, the committee strongly encourages the use or adaptation of existing commercial systems. In the near term, the DOE should develop an interim plan for maintaining an adequate communication and notification system until any such alternative system or TRANSCOM upgrade is ready for full-scale implementation. This plan should be driven by a comprehensive assessment of TRANSCOM component performance based on anticipated usage. In the long term, DOE should ensure that the system it employs is designed to meet the needs of WIPP shipment users and other major stakeholders in a timely and cost-effective fashion. Transportation Emergency Response The responsibility for emergency response is divided between DOE and the states along WIPP shipment corridors. In the committee's view, a system to maintain up-to-date information on response capability would contribute significantly to the effectiveness of the transportation system. The WIPP emergency response program has not assessed sufficiently whether adequate and timely emergency response coverage for a transportation incident exists along the full extent of each WIPP route. No formal system presently exists to identify areas where coverage may be inadequate. Recommendations: The committee recommends that DOE explore with states and other interested parties how to develop processes and tools for maintaining up-to-date spatial information on the location, capabilities, and contact information of responders, medical facilities, recovery equipment, regional response teams, and other resources that might be needed to respond to a WIPP transportation incident. This assessment should explore which organization(s) should develop and maintain the capability to generate and maintain such information. DOE should also determine where emergency response capability is currently lacking, identify organization(s) responsible for addressing these deficiencies, and take action to address them.
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