Department of Energy

Washington, DC 20585
January 28, 1998

The Honorable Bob Miller
Governor of Nevada
Carson City, Nevada 89710

Dear Governor Miller:

Thank you for your December 19, 1997, letter in which you expressed several concerns about the Department of Energy's management of low-level radioactive waste destined for disposal at the Nevada Test Site. At the outset, let me assure you that I take these concerns very seriously; and, as we have discussed, the Department has taken a number of actions to address these issues.

We have initiated several parallel actions to address the recent incidents:

  • We have directed that all the Department's sites suspend use of the suspect metal containers.

  • We have suspended shipments from the Fernald Site destined for the Nevada Test Site pending completion of the accident investigation board review and implementation of necessary corrective actions. We will provide you with a copy of the report when the board completes its investigation. We have also examined the records pertaining to all low-level waste shipments to the Nevada Test Site for the past seven years. There is no evidence that suggests shipments in other types of containers have leaked. Therefore, we have limited our suspension of shipments to the suspect white metal containers.

  • We are establishing an independent panel of scientific and engineering experts to evaluate the possible consequences of the suspect waste containers already placed in the Nevada disposal area. We will seek your input into selecting the panel members and will provide you with a copy of the report when the panel completes its review.

  • We have directed the waste generators to take extra precautions in preparing waste for shipment and to consider the use of more liquid absorbent material and/or the use of liners in the waste containers and transport trailers.

  • We have invited State of Nevada officials to conduct joint inspections of incoming waste shipments.

The scope of the Fernald investigation will include, but not be limited to, identifying all relevant facts; analyzing the facts to determine the direct, contributing and root causes of the accident; developing conclusions; and determining judgments of need that, when implemented, should prevent the recurrence of an incident. The investigation will focus on Quality Assurance/Quality Control issues including contracts, pre-awards, and specifications, Quality Assurance/Quality Control records from vendors, and radiographs; as well as operations including packing, storage, handling, and transportation of waste material. We have invited representatives from the States of Nevada and Ohio to observe the Fernald investigation and disposal area review, respectively. Additionally, the Nevada Office is reviewing, as you suggested, waste acceptance criteria-related issues and notification procedures, and will identify needed notification changes/improvements.

I have enclosed a background discussion of Federal requirements on transportation and disposal of waste containing free-liquids that was prepared by the Department's Office of Environmental Management. The enclosure also discusses several activities we have had underway with the State and local officials as well as stakeholders to address other matters associated with the Department's low-level waste disposal operations.

Please be assured that we will continue to work with you and your staff, and with the State to ensure that we maintain environmental compliance and address any identified risks to health and safety. I appreciate your continuing interest in activities concerning the Nevada Test Site. If you have further questions, please contact me or have a member of your staff contact Mr. Gary Falle, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, at (202) 586-5450.



Federico Pena

Federico Pena


cc: Mr. Paul Liebendorfer
State of Nevada
Division of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Federal Facilities
333 West Nye Lane
Carson City, Nevada 89710

Mr. Stan Marshall, Supervisor
State of Nevada
Department of Human Resources
Radiological Health
400 W. King Street, Room 101
Carson City, Nevada 89710

Mr. Robert Loux, Executive Director
State of Nevada
Agency for Nuclear Projects
1802 North Carson Street, Suite 252
Carson City, Nevada 89710




Waste Acceptance Criteria

The waste acceptance criteria for the Nevada Test Site establish strict limits on the amount of liquids allowed in waste transportation and storage containers as well as provisions for liquid-absorbing material. These requirements are based on industry standards and regulations developed by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Transportation. The standards and regulations specify that waste-containing liquid must be converted into a form that contains as little free-standing liquid as is reasonably achievable; but, in no case, shall the liquid exceed either one percent of the volume of the waste when the waste is in a disposal container or one half percent of the volume of the waste process to a stable form.

Actions with Nevada Stakeholders

Prior to the December 15, 1997, incident, the Department of Energy had been working to improve its management of the Nevada Test Site. Assistant Secretary Alm and the Assistant Manager for Environmental Management at the Nevada Operations Office met with several Nevada stakeholders in Las Vegas on August 21, 1997. The meetings included stakeholders, State representatives, and local governmental officials. Topics of discussion included improvements in the Department's Nevada Operations Office environmental management program. We have initiated the following actions in coordination with Nevada's stakeholders:

    - The Department's Nevada Operations Office is studying the feasibility of moving waste shipments destined for the Nevada Test Site through an intermodal (e.g., rail and truck) facility to avoid road shipments through high population density areas of Clark County and across the Hoover Dam. The study will be conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and will seek stakeholders' involvement. If the intermodal system is found to be a viable option, the number of waste shipments through these two areas could be significantly reduced. No decision on the intermodal option will be made until the Department reaches a Record of Decision on disposal of low-level waste from a national perspective.

    - The Department will work with State of Nevada representatives to develop a joint Federal/State Oversight Agreement for the low-level waste disposal activities at the Nevada Test Site. Discussions about the joint Federal/State Oversight Agreement between the Department and the State of Nevada are progressing well. Correspondence from Ms. G. Leah Dever of the Department's Nevada Operations Office dated October 9, 1997, to the State (i.e., Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Environmental Protection) on the joint Federal/State Oversight Agreement discussions is enclosed.



United States Government Department of Energy

DATE: December 29, 1997
SUBJECT: Suspension of Low-Level Waste Shipments via "White Boxes" Pending Fernald Investigation
TO: Distribution


Recently, five metal low-level waste containers being shipped from Fernald to Nevada Test Site for disposal were found to be leaking. The leaking containers were white--painted carbon steel boxes, 4 wide x 4' deep x 7' long, manufactured by CGR Compacting, Incorporated.

As a result of this incident, and in response to questions raised by Senators Bryan ant Reid and Governor Miller of Nevada, the Department has initiated a Type B investigation of the incident and of Fernald's procedures for shipping waste to Nevada Test Site. Among other things, the investigation will assess the adequacy of the containers; the adequacy of amount and type of absorptive material used; and the adequacy of packing and shipping procedures. The extent of the structural and/or procedural lapses which contributed to this event is not yet known. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether a systemic problem exists that may affect other shipping and/or receiving sites.

Therefore, the Department has committed that all shipments of waste from Fernald to Nevada Test Site and all other shipments throughout the complex using the suspect containers will be suspended until the investigation is completed, appropriate corrective actions are implemented, the Nevada Operations Office and Fernald have reached agreement concerning those actions, and Headquarters has approved the actions. This action does not affect the use of other approved containers which meet Department of Energy and Department of Transportation requirements for the shipment of low-level waste by sites other than Fernald at this time.

Following completion of our investigation in January 1998, the results will be forwarded to the State of Nevada and other interested parties, and appropriate corrective actions will be taken. Use of the suspect containers will not resume until the investigation is completed, appropriate corrective actions are implemented, and Headquarters has approved those actions. If you have further questions, please contact me or have a member of your staff contact Jim Turi, Office of Waste Management, at (301) 903-7100.

Alvin L. Alm
Assistant Secretary for
Environmental Management

W. Arthur, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, AL
A. Taboas, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, CH
J. Reising, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, FN
J. Lyle, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, ID
C. Gertz, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, NV
J. Davis, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, OAK
B. Folker, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, OH
R Nelson, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, OR
C. Hansen, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, RL
J. Kinzer, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, RL
J. LeGare, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, RF
T. Heenan, Assistant Manager for Environmental Quality, SR
F. McCoy, Assistant Manager for High-Level Waste, SR
T. Rowland, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, WY
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning, Policy and Budget, EM-20
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Waste Management, EM.30
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environmental Restoration, EM-40
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology, EM-50
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Material ant Facility Stabilization, EM-60
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Site Operations, EM-70
Office of Energy Research, ER-1
Assistant Secretary for Defense Programs, DP-I
Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, NE-1

Distribution: Manager, Albuquerque Operations Office
Manager, Chicago Operations Office
Manager, Idaho Operations Office
Manager, Nevada Operations Office
Manager, Oakland Operations Office
Manager, Oak Ridge Operations Office
Manager, Ohio Field Office
Manager, Richland Operations Office
Manager, Rocky Flats Field Office
Manager, Savannah River Operations Office
Manager, Carlsbad Area Office


Department of Energy

Nevada Operations Office
P.O. Box 98518
Las Vegas, NV 89193-8518

October 9, 1997

Paul Liebendorfer, P.E., Chief
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Division of Environmental Protection
333 W. Nye Lane, Room 138
Carson City, NV 89706-0851


I believe our meeting on September 18, 1997, to discuss joint oversight of the low-level waste disposal operations at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) was very productive, and I appreciate your openness and willingness to work with us toward a mutually acceptable joint oversight program. The purpose of this letter is to document our agreements on activities that we will take as initial steps in developing a joint oversight program. I have categorized these as: Generator Audits, Nevada Test Site Waste Acceptance Criteria, Performance Assessments, and Comparison of DOE Requirements to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Requirements.

Generator Audits

Enclosed is a copy of our schedule for waste generator audits for FY 1998, which we provided in an October 1, 1997, memorandum. We invite you to attend any or all of the audits. We will keep you informed of changes to this schedule. It is our understanding that you will participate in selected audits and provide formal comment to which we will ensure a response.

Nevada Test Site Waste Acceptance Criteria (NTSWAC)

DOE/NV requests that you review and provide written comments on the enclosed NTSWAC. We agree that you may comment on any element of the document, and we will provide you with a written response, including how suggested revisions can be incorporated, as appropriate.

Performance Assessments

DOE/NV will provide a copy of the draft Performance Assessment for Area 3 for your review and comment. This document should be sent to you by the end of October; however, because it is still an internal draft and is not yet available for release under FOIA, it will be marked "not for public distribution."

Comparison of DOE Requirements to NRC Requirements

DOE/NV agrees to provide comparison of the DOE requirements under its order system for operating a low-level waste disposal facility to the requirements that NRC uses to license a facility and share this with your office. This may help us identify other activities that could be subject to joint oversight.

Next Steps

We recognize that full development of a joint oversight program is dependent upon finalization of DOE Order 435.1, Radioactive Waste Management and the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Waste Management. In addition, as we move forward, we are committed to seeking the evaluation and position of our General Counsel on the level of authority that DOE can delegate to the state for oversight. In the interim, we plan to meet quarterly to identify other activities or elements that we may agree to include in the joint oversight program. I believe the most opportune time fram for this discussion will be after our next Agreement-in-Principle meeting, which is currently being scheduled.

I look forward to continuing to work toward a joint oversight program for the low-level waste operations at the NTS. If you have any questions, please call me at (702) 295-7063.

G Leah Dever

G. Leah Dever, Assistant Manager
for Environmental Management

EM:GLD Enclosures:
As, stated

cc w/o encls:
A. L. Alm, DOE/HQ
J. E. Rhoderick, DOE/HQ
(EM-35) TREV
M. W. Frei, DOE/HQ
(EM-34) TREV
S. S. Patel, DOE/HQ
(EM-36 1 ) TREV
M. J. Letourneau, DOE/HQ
(EM-35) TREV

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