Texas Compact Activity, Disposal Reporting and Pending Legislation

At the spring 2017 meeting of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Forum (LLW Forum) in Denver, Colorado on April 24-25, 2017, the Executive Director of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC or Commission) provided the following information and overview related to Commission activities and operations.

Background

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact (Texas Compact) includes the State of Vermont and is not an agency of the State of Texas.  The TLLRWDCC is a “legal entity separate and distinct from the party states…”  The Commission must comply with its federal compact law and is charged with protecting the capacity of the compact facility for Texas and Vermont generators.

Limitations to Jurisdiction and Purview

The Texas Compact does not own or operate the compact facility, which is owned by the State of Texas and operated by Waste Control Specialists (WCS).  The Texas Compact does not set surcharges or charge fees of any type, nor does it determine licensing requirements or license the facility.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) licenses the compact facility and approves waste streams.  The following matters are outside of the TLLRWDCC’s purview:  high-level waste, transuranic waste, Greater-than-Class C waste, spent fuel storage, NORM or TENORM, site operations at the compact waste facility (TCEQ), and waste shipments (TCEQ and DSHS).

Imports and Exports

The TLLRWDCC authorizes imports and exports in alignment with Texas policy and law and ensures protection of capacity.  For imports, the Commission has developed an approach based on:  a policy to ensure maximum disposal of allowed curies; the need for flexibility based on the regulatory and industry hurdles generators/brokers encounter; and, a need for a fair and unbiased allocation of curie availability.  The TLLRWDCC supports exports for good cause.  As such, it will be conducting an analysis of exported quantities.

Irradiated Hardware

Given that irradiated hardware can have a significant impact on the amount of curies disposed at the compact facility, the TLLRWDCC will continue to approve import applications as it always has with the exception of irradiated hardware.  Under the Commission’s policies, irradiated hardware must be submitted as a separate import application.  All requests over 15,000 curies, if approved, will be issued conditionally.  Once the generator submits documentation that substantiates volume, curies and shipment date, the Commission will release conditionally authorized curies, if available on a first come, first served basis.  This approach has been adopted as policy that can be found on the Commission’s website.

Forms and Automation

The TLLRWDCC rules require the use of an Import Application Form—a.k.a. “Annex A.”  The form is currently available as a pdf on the Commission’s website.  In addition, the Export Application Form and Generator Authorization Form are also available on the website.  The Commission is beginning work to automate import and export processing.  This will require the import and export forms to be fillable.

Annual Reporting and Disposal Numbers

Annual Reports are available at http://www.tllrwdcc.org/reports-more/.  The 2016 Annual Report is more robust and includes:  listing of import agreements, volume and curies; listing of export agreements; and, fees generated.  Disposal numbers in volume and curies for imported waste and in-compact waste are available at http://www.tllrwdcc.org/reports-more/.

Legislative Activities

Because the Texas Compact receives funding through the State of Texas appropriation process, the status of the Compact as an agency presents confusion.  The Texas Compact is with working with the legislature to provide clarification to State of Texas employees that the Texas Compact is a “legal entity separate and distinct from the party states …”  During the current legislative session, two items—SB 1667 by Senator Seliger and HB 3946 by Representative Landgraf—have been filed as companion bills.  SB 1667 and HB 3946 relate to the nature, funding, and functions of the TLLRWDCC.

Management Rule

TLLRWDCC Commissioner Linda Morris chairs a committee that is charged with drafting rules for management of low-level radioactive waste in the Texas Compact.  These rules will have applicability in Vermont.  The scope of the rule will likely include only reporting requirements.  The rulemaking will include an informal comment period before instituting the formal process.

Workshops

In September 2016, the Texas Compact conducted its first workshop in Burlington, Vermont.  The workshop was geared toward Vermont generators.  The Texas Compact is considering doing a similar workshop for Texas generators, particularly small generators.  The compact will also consider workshops for larger generators, as may be needed.

For additional information, please contact Texas Compact Commission Executive Director Leigh Ing at (512) 305-8941 or at leigh.ing@tllrwdcc.org

Federal and State Officials Attend WIPP Reopening Ceremony

On January 9, 2017, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz and DOE Office of Environmental Management (EM) Assistant Secretary Monica Regalbuto joined New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and others to mark the reopening and resumption of waste operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which is located approximately 40 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway also attended the celebration.

Waste emplacement activities were suspended at WIPP following a waste drum rupture in an underground storage panel and a separate underground fire in early 2014. “The tireless efforts by the workforce, the contractor and federal management and the community to make WIPP a safer place to fulfill its critical mission is a remarkable feat,” said Energy Secretary Moniz.

Overview

On December 23, 2016, DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) authorized WIPP to reopen following almost three years of recovery operations due the early 2014 underground fire and subsequent unrelated fire.  Twelve days later, on January 4, 2017, the Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) began moving waste underground from the Waste Handling Building.

The Waste Handling Building, which contains approximately 40,000 square meters of storage space, was originally intended to store waste before underground disposal at the WIPP facility.  However, it began being used for indefinite storage following the suspension of disposal operations in early 2014.  NMED, which serves as the WIPP facility’s primary state regulator, has set a deadline to clear out the Waste Handling Building by June 30, 2017—although DOE is considering a more ambitious timeframe according to various news outlets.  Transuranic waste stored at the Waste Handling Building must be disposed below ground before WIPP can resume accepting new shipments of nuclear waste from across the DOE nuclear complex.

According to DOE, the WIPP facility is expected to accept approximately five shipments per week once shipments are resumed to the mine.  Prior to the 2014 accidents, the WIPP facility was accepting more than 15 shipments per week.  According to the Department’s 2016 Annual Transuranic Waste Inventory Report, there was approximately 45,000 cubic meters of contact-handled transuranic waste destined for the WIPP facility across 14 sites in the DOE’s nuclear complex.  In addition, there was approximately 2,500 cubic meters of remote-handled transuranic waste at 11 sites. These figures, according to the report, do not include transuranic waste that DOE expects to generate from ongoing and future Department cleanup operations.

In July 2016, DOE approved strict new waste acceptance criteria for the WIPP facility.  DOE sites will not be able to ship waste to the facility unless it meets the new criteria, which has created some challenges in cases where waste was packaged under the old criteria, but will now need to be certified to meet the new criteria.  DOE has not yet announced which sites will ship waste to WIPP first.

Background

Transuranic waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation’s nuclear defense program.  As early as the 1950’s, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended deep disposal of long-lived transuranic radioactive wastes in geologically stable formations, such as deep salt beds.  Sound environmental practices and strict regulations require such wastes to be isolated to protect human health and the environment.

Bedded salt is free of fresh flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable—an ideal medium for permanently isolating long-lived radioactive wastes from the environment.  However, its most important quality in this application is the way salt rock seals all fractures and naturally closes all openings.

Throughout the 1960’s, government scientists searched for an appropriate site for radioactive waste disposal, eventually testing a remote desert area of southeastern New Mexico where, 250 million years earlier, evaporation cycles of the ancient Permian Sea had created a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed.

In 1979, Congress authorized the WIPP facility, which was constructed during the 1980’s.  Congress limited WIPP to the disposal of defense-generated transuranic wastes.  In 1998, EPA certified WIPP for safe, long-term disposal of TRU wastes.

In February 2014, DOE suspended operations at WIPP following an accidental radiation release and unrelated underground fire.  DOE spent nearly three years on recovery operations at an estimated cost of approximately $1.5 billion, including NWP’s management and operations contract.  DOE is still working to return the underground ventilation back up to pre-accident levels, which is expected to push the total bill for the recovery closer to $2 billion.

Additional information is available on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website at http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/recovery.html.