Over the 2-day workshop, three discussion sessions focused on identifying best practices for making remediation decisions (see Appendix C). In the final session of the workshop, titled “Identification of Best Practices for Improving Remediation/Closure/Post-Closure of Challenging Sites,” a panel of speakers identified best practices or tools for making remediation decisions. The panel represented a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives: tribal, federal, regulatory, state, practitioner, and citizen stakeholders. Following the speakers’ comments, the moderator and planning committee chair Paul Gilman (Covanta Energy) opened the floor for attendees’ comments.
This chapter provides summaries of the key points made by workshop participants during the “best practices” discussion sessions. These statements reflect the viewpoints of the individual speakers, not the consensus views of the workshop participants or of the National Academy of Sciences.
5.1 SUMMARY OF BEST PRACTICES DISCUSSION SESSIONS
Several themes emerged from the discussion of best practices over the course of the workshop:
- Sustainability and Optimization,
- Flexibility in Regulations and CERCLA,
- Stakeholder Involvement and Communication,
- Shared Lessons Learned,
- Multiagency Decision-Making Processes,
- Functional Monitoring, and
Sustainability and Optimization. Several participants identified the use of sustainability principles to balance and optimize multiple objectives to guide remediation decisions as a best practice. Planning committee member Patricia Culligan (Columbia University) cited the New York City public schools’ decision to change the light fixtures at a rate that would not require teacher layoffs as a good solution. This demonstrates how one might optimize benefit while also addressing risks to health and the environment (see Goldstein 2014, or NRC 2011, p. 117). When balancing the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, societal, and the economic considerations), a win-win-win solution is rarely achievable. Rather, trade-offs between the stakeholders should be expected and can be achieved through detailed discussions and occasionally lengthy negotiations. The resulting decision is an optimization and balancing of all three pillars.
Craig Benson (University of Wisconsin) recommended a more deliberate use of the word “sustainability.” Throughout the workshop’s presentations and discussions it has not been clear that sustainable analysis is being performed in the full sense of the word. For example, life cycle analysis, a broader analysis consistent with sustainability principles, should be more widely utilized.
Michael Kavanaugh (Geosyntec) suggested that there is a need to focus on the life cycles of the sites and to have a clearer understanding of the status within the life cycle for each site. The recent National Research Council (NRC) groundwater report (2013) recommended a transition assessment that could lead to changes in the remedy (e.g., moving from active to passive remediation such as containment systems). Because some fraction of contaminated sites cannot be cleaned up to unrestricted use and unlimited exposure standards, a clear path forward should be defined for these sites. If those sites are placed into a “wait-and-see” mode, then the challenge becomes one of keeping pressure on new technology development to solve difficult contamination problems. Paul Gilman (Covanta Energy) suggested that the national laboratories might naturally provide this pressure.
Flexibility in Regulations and CERCLA. The workshop discussions recognized that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) allows for flexibility in remediation decisions and for the incorporation of sustainability principles. Roger Petrie (State of Tennessee, Department of Environment and Conservation) stressed the importance of flexibility in the Federal Facility Agreements (FFAs) and CERCLA. Milestone schedules are renegotiated frequently. Priorities also
change—especially for complex sites with contaminant sources that are not contained. Initial assumptions made to guide decisions may ultimately be proven incorrect or require modification. Models are also updated. All of these issues point to the need for flexibility in agreements. CERCLA is very flexible—this is why Tennessee chose it over Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations for many sites. CERCLA does not overlook standards, but it does allow the flexibility to adjust them while cleanup is taking place.
Mary Flora (Savannah River Solutions) agreed with the importance of CERCLA’s flexibility. The Savannah River Site (SRS) prefers to use CERCLA over RCRA when there is an option to do so. This movement away from prescriptive approaches is supported by site regulators (South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control [DHEC] and the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]). SRS had been practicing sustainability—the consideration of societal, economic, and environmental impacts—in its decision-making process, even though it has not been identified as “sustainability” by the Core Team members. CERCLA readily allowed for a sustainable approach to decision making.
Stuart Walker (EPA) agreed that CERCLA offers flexibility and noted that site remedies have evolved significantly over the past 20 years. Mr. Walker cited historical, groundwater remedy selection data,1 which show how the types of remedies have changed since administrative reforms were introduced by EPA in 1995.2 Prior to 1995, the percentage of sites using pump-and-treat (P&T) as a groundwater remedy was high (approximately 90 percent). Following the release of the administrative reforms, which included land-use guidance, the percentage of P&T remedial systems has subsequently dropped to 25 percent.
Paul Black (Neptune and Company, Inc.) suggested that “fuzziness” in standards should be considered a best practice. Standards that are very short and provide a performance objective would be ideal. Guidance documents should be process oriented and provide advice on how to meet the regulations.
Rateb (Boby) Abu-Eid (USNRC) agreed that U.S. regulations are too specific and suggested as an alternative a risk-based method developed by the Europeans (e.g., the United Kingdom) referred to as a “safety case.”3
1 Information on trends in groundwater remedies is available in the Superfund Remedy Report (SRR), Fourteenth Edition: http://cluin.org/asr/. In particular, Figure 11 on page 12 shows a decrease in the percentage of remedies that used pump and treat from the late 1980’s (90 percent) to 2010’s (25 percent).
3 For more information on the safety case approach see: http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/operational/tech_asst_guides/ns-tast-gd-051.pdf.
The safety case could be applied in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or safety analysis.
Stakeholder Involvement and Communication. Willie Preacher (Shoshone-Bannock tribe) supported the idea of tribal nations being involved in long-term stewardship as a best practice. If implemented, then tribal nations could influence what happens at sites over the long term. Tribal nations would like to team with DOE on site-related issues and are looking for opportunities to do so.
Mr. Preacher also stressed the importance of early and frequent communication between tribes and the Department of Energy (DOE). Transparency and communication should be established and maintained. One challenge within the Shoshone-Bannock tribes is turnover within the seven-member tribal council (the tribe’s governing body) which is elected every 2 years. New councils may not understand the remediation issues, which can introduce challenges to communication.
Paul Black agreed that communication is critical. Openness and transparency in communication can be accomplished through decision analysis tools. These tools provide justification for decisions that are made. It is also helpful to find community stakeholders who keep focus on the problem (e.g., mayor, community group).
Dave Geiser (DOE Office of Legacy Management [LM]) suggested that a best practice is to establish a common vision and goal for the site. DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has had major successes at the Weldon Spring, Fernald, Rocky Flats, and Mound sites. At all of these sites, the end states were clearly communicated and agreed upon. This may mean many public meetings with the local community. DOE attempted a risk-based approach to identifying end states for its sites, but this approach did not receive regulator or stakeholder acceptance. Regardless, the concept of defining a common end state should still be considered a best practice.
Mr. Geiser also identified a communication challenge: There is misunderstanding—even within DOE—that DOE will “go away” when cleanup is complete and sites are transitioned to long-term stewardship. The scope of activities for long-term stewardship needs to be well understood by all parties.
Dave Geiser suggested that EM’s current approach for preparing sites for long-term stewardship is a best practice. Prior to transfer over to LM, EM has “right-sized” the remedy for long-term stewardship, defined the steps needed to take if the remedy fails, and has assigned a clear post-closure operator.
Shared Lessons Learned. The sharing of lessons learned between sites was repeatedly identified as a best practice. William Reckley (USNRC)
stated that one of USNRC’s best practices, called “operating experience,” is a way to share both successes and failures throughout the nuclear power reactor community. Mary Flora supported the idea of sharing information across sites, agencies, and companies as a best practice.
Dr. Abu-Eid highlighted a best practice resulting from experience with decommissioning commercial nuclear power plants in the United States: publish and share lessons learned on a web site. With help from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the decommissioning lessons learned were published and were very useful in establishing a unified approach, final status survey, decontamination, and site release.4
A workshop attendee identified regular meetings between DOE staff from different remediation sites as a best practice. These meetings would train staff by sharing lessons learned and best practices. However, travel between sites has been curtailed by budget cuts. Mr. Geiser agreed with the importance of training and sharing information across sites. This practice keeps federal managers informed and aware of issues and concerns at other sites. Dr. Kavanaugh noted that companies have recognized the value of knowledge management—both implicit and explicit information—and how it is shared.
Rula Deeb (Geosyntec) added that the sharing of lessons learned was a common, broad category from both workshops. In Workshop 1, the focus was on risk communication to the public. In Workshop 2, the focus shifted to knowledge transfer. This workshop series should initiate efforts to share these best practices and continue the dialogues that have been started.
Multiagency Decision-Making Processes. The Core Team Process as a general approach to multiagency decision making at complex sites was discussed throughout both workshops. Richard Mach (U.S. Navy) noted that the best practice underlying the Core Team Process is identifying potentially successful teams, teaching them to be successful, and enabling them to make common sense decisions.
Mary Flora commented that a critical aspect of the Core Team is that its members are empowered to make decisions. The Core Team Process is built on values of trust, transparency, and the acknowledgement that decisions may change. There is no finger pointing when mistakes are made and decisions have to change. SRNL is often used to provide technical independent viewpoints.
Marolyn Parson (Savannah River Site’s Citizen Advisory Board) identified the Core Team Process as a best practice. The public has confidence
4 Two manuals were created out of the lessons learned: the Multi-Agency Radiological Laboratory Analytical Protocols Manual (MARLAP, http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doccollections/nuregs/staff/sr1576/initial/) and the Multi-Agency Radiation Survey and Site Investigation Manual (MARSSIM, http://www.epa.gov/radiation/marssim/).
that EPA and the state of South Carolina, as members of the Core Team, fairly represent their concerns during negotiations and discussions. Therefore, the Savannah River Site’s Citizen Advisory Board fully supports decisions made through the Core Team Process.
Roger Petrie highlighted the multiagency decision-making process at Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) as a best practice (i.e., the interagency working group). Mr. Petrie acknowledged that involving multiple agencies in the decision-making process was previously highlighted as one of the remediation program’s biggest challenges (see Chapter 3), but it is also the program’s biggest strength. The multiagency team makes more resources available than any one agency could; allows for more ideas to be introduced and a broader interpretation of standards; and ultimately results in a wider acceptance of decisions (i.e., it is difficult for an agency to criticize a decision when it was included in the decision-making process).
Modeling. Several attendees identified the use of site models in decision making was identified as a best practice. Ming Zhu (EM) suggested that advanced modeling work taking place at DOE national labs could be useful in discussing and addressing the problems. Federal agencies are sharing information and best practices (Federal Interagency Steering Committee on Multimedia Environmental Modeling [ISCMEM]) in which risk assessment is a big component. Additionally, interagency activities foster interactions that eventually help with decision making (see previous best practices for “Shared Lessons Learned” and “Expanding Core Team Principles to Other Sites”).
Paul Black noted that conservatism should be removed from the site models. He provided “peak of the mean” as an example of conservatism and a non-physical approach to modeling. Peak of the mean analysis introduces an artificial increase in radioactivity, because it assumes a barrier being turned “off” suddenly and completely at a given time into the future. The result is a regulation developed on an artificial construct, because barriers do not suddenly turn off.
Functional Monitoring. Several workshop attendees mentioned functional monitoring to increase public confidence and improve modeling as a best practice. Craig Benson suggested that for situations in which the public and regulators are skeptical of a proposed remedy, the use of functional monitoring can increase confidence in remedy performance (e.g., recall the Monticello case study, see Chapter 3).
Thomas Nicholson (USNRC) agreed with this comment and provided an example of a well-run monitoring program to guide resolution of a contentious issue. Spent fuel pools were leaking into the Hudson River. All parties recognized the merit of a long-term monitoring program throughout
the site and along the river, despite strong disagreements on other issues. A trusted functional monitoring program allowed for a decision on the final remedy.
Mark Fuhrmann (USNRC) offered some additional comments about monitoring sites. Current performance assessments assume that a containment system’s barrier will fail after 500 years, after which time the system will fail completely. A best practice would be to monitor those systems internally for indications of degradation. As an example application, electrodes and internal monitoring equipment can be placed into storage tanks. He suggested that in situ monitoring of the integrity of the containment systems might be a good idea. John Tseng (retired DOE) noted that in situ monitoring has been used previously in EM cleanups—for example, in disposal cells at SRS and in the subsurface at the Hanford site (e.g., soil conductivity measurements).
Timeframes. Many workshop participants suggested that remediation analyses should be based on 100-200 year timeframes, not 104-106 year timeframes as is common practice at present. This was highlighted by Paul Black, William Reckley, Rateb (Boby) Abu-Eid, and Mark Fuhrmann.
Paul Black suggested that the timeframe used to calculate “peak dose” should be significantly shorter. For example, the models used to estimate dose for depleted uranium (DU) are normally extended to the time when peak activity occurs. Peak activity for DU occurs 2.1 million years in the future. The dose estimation models assume someone will be there to receive it. He recalled Dr. Goldstein’s comments from the first session: dose to humans should not be estimated beyond several hundred years.
Another workshop attendee agreed that remediation analyses should not try to solve the 2.1-million-year problem. Rather, one should aim for a 100-year timeframe, stabilize the contamination as best as possible, and allow for future generations to revisit the remedy. Some countries have adopted this approach by storing their waste in stainless steel and concrete—allowing for 100 years of safe storage—to be revisited by future generations who may choose to adjust the remedy with new technology and knowledge.
William Reckley and Rateb (Boby) Abu-Eid discussed the timeframes that USNRC uses in its risk calculations. The timeframe depends on the facility type: hundreds of years for nuclear power plants (waste confidence ruling), 104-106 of years for deep geologic storage. For low level waste, no timeframe is given but the guidance is 104 years. Environmental impact assessments have no time limit assigned.
Decision and Probabilistic Risk Analyses. Paul Black would like to see risk-informed decision making used more often in remediation decisions. He noted that probabilistic risk analysis (PRA) is a better practice than
deterministic risk analysis to assess environmental remedies. PRA provides a systematic approach for assessing risk. Dr. Black suggested that identifying the main variables of the PRA through sensitivity analysis and realistic modeling of the problem is a best practice.
Solicit Expert Advice. Several attendees stated that recognizing the need for expert advice is another best practice. Dr. Abu-Eid noted that when the USNRC needed expertise on decommissioning a building unlike anything else in the United States, it sought advice from Britain—which had decommissioned a similar type of building. Craig Benson noted that experts can provide independent input on practical ways to solve problems (e.g., the national labs and the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation [CRESP, http://www.cresp.org/]). Several attendees noted that stable, long-term funding of science is needed to support experts. Paul Black stated that expert solicitation is part of the decision analysis tool. The skeleton of the decision analysis tool requires expert input through elicitation.
Intrinsic Value of Environmental Resources. One topic was highlighted as a lesson learned rather than a best practice. Dan Goode (USGS) noted that in the decision-making approaches presented at the workshop (e.g., the USNRC framework), the advocate for the environment is missing. “Preserving” is written down (e.g., see the National Environmental Policy Act) but environmental and economic values are not weighed equally. There is a need to better define how economic and environmental values are evaluated and included in risk assessment, as well as a way to assess intrinsic value of the resources.