June 2014

The following is a compendium of news reports over the preceding month that may be of interest to our AG offices who are dealing with DOE sites or general nuclear waste issues.  Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.





Monica Regalbuto, a nominee for DOE Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environmental Management, spoke of three main priorities during her nomination hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  She stated that she planned to focus on restarting the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, cleaning up the Hanford site, and working on the Savannah River site in SC, in that order.  Although it is second on her priority list, Regalbuto emphasized the strong need to protect Hanford workers with the best technology available.  Her written testimony can be found here.    


The DOE suspended its nuclear waste fee following a U.S. court of appeals decisionfrom November of last year, requiring it to halt fees until it arranged for how it plans to use the money to build a national reservoir for spent nuclear fuel.  The fee was one-quarter of a penny per kilowatt hour of electricity.  The DOE has collected $750 million a year since it was first implemented in 1983, totaling $31 billion in a trust fund today. 


The Office of Environmental Management has introduced a new interactive historical timeline to its website.  Ranging from the 1940’s to late 2013, the timeline details important cleanup events, complete with photos and videos.


The DOE awarded the CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company with Star status, the highest level of recognition given for health and safety programs.  In giving the award, the DOE acknowledged the strengths of management leadership and employee involvement at the Hanford site.   




In the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, “The NRC FY 2015 Budget and Policy Issues,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) budget request was discussed, along with other issues facing the agency.  At the hearing, the NRC was heavily criticized for failing to include money in the budget toward the development of Yucca Mountain, which the agency was ordered by a federal appellate court last year to re-start the licensing process.  The NRC responded by claiming it is not in violation of the court order, which only requires it to use existing funds in the licensing process. 


On May 13, three Senators introduced three separate bills to support safety and security in storing spent nuclear fuel and decommissioning reactors. The bills included The Safe and Secure Decommissioning Act of 2014 S.2324 , The Dry Cask Storage Act of 2014 S.2325; previously introduced in the House in November 2013 as H.R.2354, and The Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act of 2014 S.2326; introduced in the House 2 days later as H.R.4667.  These bills were introduced one day before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its hearing, “Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning: Stakeholder Views At the hearing, the need for the previously-introduced bills to safely decommission nuclear plants across the country was discussed, as well as the decommissioning of the seventeen reactors already in various stages of the decommission process.




Storage, Recycling, or Disposal of Radioactive & Hazardous Waste


With no national repository to store their spent fuel, U.S. nuclear power plants are increasingly being forced to build or expand their storage facilities.  The Millstone Power Station in Waterford, CT, is one of many plants nation-wide faced with this dilemma.  The waste at Millstone is stored in large steel canisters on a storage pad that used to be a parking lot.  With recent expansion to the facility increasing its capacity seven-fold and no permanent place in the nation to send the spent fuel following the abandonment of Yucca Mountain, the Waterford community noted fears of becoming a long-lasting nuclear waste site.






SRS has named Carol Johnson as its new president and CEO, replacing former president and CEO Dwayne Wilson, who stepped down early this month.  Johnson has worked in the nuclear environmental management industry for 30 years, having worked in the past at Hanford, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Idaho National Laboratory, as well as in the United Kingdom.


Since the DOE has stated its intentions to continue construction at the Savannah River Site through the current fiscal year, the state of South Carolina has withdrawn its lawsuit against the DOE and others.  The state filed the lawsuit in March of this year, in hopes of preventing a nuclear fuel reactor project at SRS from being defunded.



Officials have identified what is believed to be the likely cause of the February radiation leak at WIPP: a change from inorganic to organic kitty litter inside the drums shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Kitty litter is used in the storage drums to absorb nitric acid liquid; however, the switch from inorganic to organic litter created a greater fuel source for a chemical reaction within the containers, causing them to heat.  This excess heat eventually caused the lid of at least one container to crack, leaking radiation.  Future actions by WIPP and the DOE will focus on securing the containers packaged similarly that are not stored at WIPP as well as sealing off the areas of WIPP where hundreds of similarly-packaged drums are being stored.


WIPP officials have stated that it could be anywhere from 18 months to 3 years before the plant is able to re-open and resume its operations.  They are placing emphasis on learning all facts before making any critical decisions surrounding continued operations at the site.




The DOE confirmed that the container they believe to be responsible for the radiation leak at WIPP in February of this year originally came from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Los Alamos, NM.  Because of this, LANL and the DOE have halted shipments of that type of nuclear waste from the laboratory, pending investigation into what may have caused the container to crack with evidence of heat damage.  Those containers are being sent to a temporary storage facility in Andrews, Texas in concrete casks.  With WIPP shut down and the safety of the other similar containers packed by LANL under investigation, the DOE has confirmed that LANL will not meet its June 30 deadline to dispose of 3,706 cubic meters of waste stored on site, despite the fact that the disposal is over 90% complete.  This date was set to get all waste off-site before the start of wildfire season, after fires three years ago came dangerously close to the site where the waste was being stored.




Lonnie Poteet, a truck driver who was delivering fuel to the Hanford site only hours after the spill occurred on July 27, 2007, spoke out to media about the physical ailments he says he suffered as a result of exposure to chemical vapors.  Poteet claims he was not warned of the spill, and, upon arriving at the site, he began to feel the effects of exposure immediately, including a burning sensation on his exposed arms and face and loss of vision in his right eye.  Poteet claims that he is deeply concerned for other workers in the industry who may be exposed to harmful chemicals in similar future situations.


Workers who claim that they were harmed at the Hanford note that they have been unable to secure adequate relief from the federal government for their injuries.  Many workers have stated that they needed medical care, despite having believed that the working environment was safe.  Some have also noted challenges with coverage.  For instance, Barbara Sall, widow of Gary Sall, who passed away following a diagnosis of work-related toxic encephalopathy after working at Hanford for 28 years, recalls working for more than a year to get Gary’s disability claim accepted while also taking care of his many health issues. 




West Valley Action Network members, including representatives of six watchdog groups over the nuclear cleanup project in Ashford, met with officials from the DOE and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to discuss past and future progress at the West Valley Demonstration Project nuclear cleanup site.  By the end of 2016, the cleanup plan stipulates that waste will be stored in concrete casks on a concrete pad until a national repository is available.  It is estimated that the entire project will cost more than $7 billion.

Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant


In-ground heating, called electrical resistance heating, is being used to clean harmful chemicals from the groundwater at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in Kentucky.  The chemicals were used until 1993 to clean machinery, and seeped into the ground water.  As of January of this year, this method has been fully operational and has removed about 1,000 gallons of chemicals from the groundwater.






Michigan lawmakers continue expressing their concerns for the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) plan to build a deep geologic repository (DGR) to hold over 50 million gallons of waste, in Kincardine, Ontario, less than a mile from Lake Huron.  The primary concern for U.S. lawmakers has been the possible impact on water in the Great Lakes, which is a major source of drinking water for millions who live in the vicinity.  Many have called on the Obama administration and Congress to take action to stop the DGR from being constructed.


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