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Letter to DOE,
RE: the Performance Management Plan,
"accelerated cleanup" regarding transuranic waste and WIPP

July 24, 2002

Dr. Inés Triay
Department of Energy
PO Box 3090
Carlsbad, NM 88221

Dear Dr. Triay:

As you know, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) has been very interested in the proposed "accelerated cleanup" regarding transuranic waste and WIPP. We had hoped that you would provide for some meaningful public input on the Performance Management Plan (PMP) for transuranic waste. But we only received the draft Plan via email last Friday afternoon (and not from CBFO). We have since that time, despite repeated requests, not been told what the timeframe for comment is, who the CBFO point of contact is, and when the Plan will be submitted to Headquarters. But since other PMPs covered by the New Mexico Letter of Intent have not yet been submitted to Headquarters, we expect that these comments will be considered before the Plan is submitted. I hope that we will also be able to discuss these matters and others at the meeting this Friday morning. At a minimum, Headquarters should be informed about the process for stakeholder input and that some stakeholders stated that there was not sufficient time for adequate public review and comment and that they objected to significant portions of the draft Plan.

SRIC has major concerns about the draft TRU PMP. In its present form, it is not an adequate planning document, nor should it be used to justify any particular activities, schedules, or budget adjustments. SRIC believes that the PMP should be fundamentally revised, with stakeholder input. The following are brief comments, because of the lack of time to review the document, and because of numerous other activities that are subject to public review at this same time.

1. DOE has not shown that risk reduction will occur from the transuranic (TRU) waste "accelerated cleanup" The draft Plan asserts that there would be risk reduction, but does not provide or reference any risk assessment that supports that assertion. On the contrary, the three WIPP Environmental Impact Statements issued between 1980 and September 1997 all state that the storage sites can safely handle their wastes for decades. The EISs project that more people will be killed and injured from transportation accidents from shipping wastes to WIPP than would be killed and injured from leaving the wastes at the existing sites for several decades. Rather than risk reduction, it is possible that rushing to ship wastes to WIPP and handling waste more rapidly at WIPP will increase transportation accidents as well as accidents at the WIPP site with resulting injuries to workers and the public. SRIC believes that DOE must update its risk assessments and environmental impact statements before it proceeds with several of the "accelerated cleanup" activities included in the draft Plan. The Plan should be revised to include such documents.

2. The supposed benefit of the TRU "accelerated cleanup" is not risk reduction, it is cost reduction that the draft Plan emphasizes. But because the draft Plan includes no baseline cost breakdowns of different activities, it is not possible to confirm whether the alleged "savings" could occur. The Plan must include baseline costs for the major activities that are to be changed — both current baseline and the baseline for the "accelerated" activities.

The draft Plan projects savings of $8 billion over WIPP's current baseline cost. In general, those "savings" are unsupported or not likely to be achieved. The largest single savings are $3.6 billion in WIPP's operations, based on a $180 million in savings for 20 years. Since WIPP was originally designed to operate for 25 years (WIPP Environmental Impact Statement, October 1980, page 1-5), the 37-year baseline (1999-2035) already has added 12 years of "baseline" operating costs. Based on historic actual costs, the WIPP budget is not geared to achieving performance goals. Providing budget stability, especially in support of the local Carlsbad economy, has been an important principle. The draft Plan does not state how it would address the local economic impacts of early closure. Absent such plans, SRIC does not believe that any operational savings can be imputed. Indeed, what seems more likely is that additional funds would be provided and all of the projected results would not be achieved and that basic funding would be provided beyond 2015, thereby eliminating some or all of the "savings."

The second largest projected savings, $2.1 billion from "regulatory improvements," are totally without basis. First, the baseline costs of those activities are not provided and justified. Without such a baseline, there is no basis for cost comparison. Second, the costs of the proposed regulatory changes are not detailed. Third, the costs of the changes are unknown and totally speculative since the actual elements regarding changes to the WIPP permit have not been proposed, and their approval is at best speculative. The third largest amount of savings is $1.2 billion for TRUPACT-III and rail transportation. The TRUPACT-III has not even been designed, so its actual costs are unknown. Given that the total baseline life cycle costs for transporting all CH and RH wastes are $1.590 billion (WIPP Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, September 1997, page 5-10), it is not credible that any transportation changes could save 75 percent of that amount. Once again, the draft Plan must provide and justify baseline amounts against which project costs and the alternatives proposed can be compared. Similarly, the projected savings from the Centralized Characterization Project (CCP) and Central Characterization Facility (CCF) are not documented and are at best speculative.

3. Another inadequacy of the draft Plan is that it does not recognize the history of WIPP being over budget and not meeting its past performance measures. During its first 40 months of operation, WIPP has not met any of its performance measures for amount of waste disposal for its "normal" operations. For fiscal years 1998-2001, DOE's Budget Request to Congress totaled $727.378 million. Congress appropriated $728.996 million for those four years, or 101 percent of the budget request. The performance measures accompanying those budget requests were for disposal of 6,942 cubic meters at WIPP, but actual disposal was 2,584 cubic meters, or 37 percent of the performance measures.

It is not good business or management practice to expect that an operation that consistently does not meet performance measures will meet dramatically increased performance measures, especially when there is no analysis of the causes of the poor performance and specifically identified and successfully implemented remedies. Without addressing what fundamental changes will occur to improve performance, it is at least as likely that any "accelerated schedules" will not be met even with additional funding being provided. The Plan must forthrightly address the historic performance of WIPP and detail how those major reasons for that performance are being addressed.

4. Another fundamental problem of the TRU waste management program has long been that no one knows how much waste exists because of historic poor management practices. A related problem is that there is not good acceptable knowledge of the waste so that extensive waste characterization is required on each container to ensure that it meets WIPP disposal requirements. The last WIPP environmental impact statement in September 1997 stated that the expected amount of contact-handled waste through 2033 is 135,000 cubic meters. The draft Plan puts that amount at 186,500 cubic meters (page 9) — a difference of 38 percent. The volume used in the draft Plan also exceeds the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act legal limit of 168,500 cubic meters by more than ten percent — a fact that is not mentioned in the draft Plan. Any acceptable Plan must recognize this fundamental problem and describe how it will be addressed at each site to ensure that adequate information is available for planning purposes and, more importantly, to meet regulatory requirements.

5. A basic conclusion of the DOE Top-to-Bottom Review was that improving DOE contract management is essential. The draft Plan mentions that issue only briefly (pages 45-46) without including any specific reforms. But the existing Westinghouse TRU Solutions contract is a prime example of the need for contractor reform because the existing contract rewards poor performance. For example, the continuing problems of inadequate permit modification submissions is not alleviated since Westinghouse is paid a significant amount for the submission of the requests, rather than the contract being based on payment for approved submissions. Thus, Westinghouse is paid more to submit virtually the same request two or three times rather than doing one adequate submission which could be approved. Without addressing this fundamental problem, there is no basis to assume that any of the permit modifications that are required will be approved in the scheduled timeframes or that many of them would ever be approved. The draft Plan must describe the existing contracts, the reforms needed and how they will be achieved.

6. The lack of compliance with legal and regulatory requirements and inadequate stakeholder involvement were major reasons for the decade-long delay in opening WIPP. The draft Plan appears to be a return to those failed practices. Many of the most significant aspects of the draft Plan are not supported or are opposed by regulators and stakeholders. Thus, there is no likelihood that they would be approved without any delay or cost increases. Indeed, the draft Plan itself contains no discussion of the stakeholder involvement in developing the Plan and stakeholder views of the proposals. The Plan should include stakeholder concerns about the Plan and "accelerated cleanup" and how CBFO will address those concerns.

7. There is no reason to believe that any of the strategic initiatives that are the foundation of accelerated cleanup in the PMP can be fully achieved.

Strategic Initiative 1 related to acceleration of shipments from INEEL to WIPP depends upon the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility beginning operation on schedule in March 2003, that it will operate without difficulty, and that it can even expand its activities so that it completes its work three years early in 2012. Given that the plant is not yet constructed and has not operated, prudent management and decision-making would await some demonstration that the plant can operate to meet existing performance measures before assuming it can exceed them by three years. Moreover, the Plan should discuss, for example, the fact that INEEL has operated behind schedule because of waste characterization problems and violations of permitting requirements that have resulted in shipments being suspended in 1999 and 2001. Given that history, prudent management would assume some difficulties in meeting initial performance requirements of the new facility. The Plan should state that an assumption is that INEEL will dramatically improve its performance. The Plan should also include the specific permit modifications that it expects to be approved, since some of the pending ones are supposedly necessary to meet the schedule.

Strategic Initiative 2 of accelerating shipments from small quantity sites to WIPP depends upon successful deployment of the Central Characterization Project (CCP). The Plan does not acknowledge that the CCP is already months behind schedule and, thus, over budget, and the draft Plan does not provide any basis for assuming that the CCP can meet the stated schedule and performance objectives. Indeed, even the near-term schedules for the ANL-E and NTS certifications of the CCP in September 2002 will not be met. The Plan should be revised to provide more realistic near-term schedules and associated projected cost changes. The Plan should also describe the cost requirements for SRS/Mound, ANL-E/MURR, NTS, and LLNL to meet the projects described and whether those funds are approved.

Strategic Initiative 3, related to accelerating shipments from SQS and some large sites to WIPP, depends upon the success of the New Mexico, Eastern (Savannah River) and Western (Hanford) hubs, which cannot be implemented on the schedule provided. Appropriate regulatory actions and legal requirements, including compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), has not been done completed. Thus, the plans are premature at best and perhaps impossible to achieve. Increased funding should not be based on such total speculation. Instead, the Plan should include the specific permit modifications that will be needed and the schedules for such changes, and the schedules and costs of the modifications are not received. The Plan should also describe the specific legal and regulatory changes that will be required and the schedules for those changes.

Strategic Initiative 4, related to approval and operation of the Central Confirmation Facility (CCF) at WIPP, is not achievable. CCF also has missed its previous schedule and there is no known basis, and certainly none provided in the draft Plan, to assume that CCF will be operational at any certain date. Indeed, the draft Plan doesn't even include milestones for approval of the CCF permit modification or for the CCF to begin operation at WIPP. The Plan also should discuss the strong citizen opposition to the CCF and the alternative plans if the CCF is not permitted.

Strategic Initiative 5, related to remote-handled (RH) waste, does not mention that RH-waste approval is already well behind schedule. As recently as a few months ago, CBFO was saying that RH shipments needed to begin before CH waste was emplaced in Panel 2. The Plan does not discuss the impacts on the overall operation of WIPP from further delays as to when RH waste arrives at WIPP, and the impacts on WIPP's overall performance assessment from not putting any remote-handled waste in panels 1, 2, or 3, which could be the case if CH disposal is accelerated and RH waste disposal does not occur until late in 2004, as the optimistic milestone states.

Strategic Initiative 6, related to reduced regulatory requirements for waste characterization and transportation, ignores the fact that the history of permit modification requests over the past two years is that many requests are not approved. The most recent submissions, which are mentioned in the draft Plan, are also poorly drafted and technically deficient and many of them will likely be denied or delayed. The Plan should discuss how past failures in obtaining approval for permit modifications, including some of those recently proposed, have been addressed. The Plan should also address other regulatory changes that will be needed for waste characterization. Regarding transportation, the assumption that single-containment transportation casks will be acceptable should be dropped because there has been strong stakeholder objections to such containers for more than a decade. Instead, the Plan should include double containment for any transportation containers. As previously noted, baseline costs for the existing transportation system and for each of the proposed changes should be included in the Plan.

8. The draft Plan also demonstrates shocking sloppiness, probably because of the rush to meet deadlines and inadequate review and stakeholder involvement. A couple of the many examples are: On page 10, the draft Plan states that there are "five LQS and 17 SQS." The accompanying figures on page 9 and Table A-1 list six LQS and 21 SQS. On page 6, one of the assumptions is: "Starting in March 2003 100 TRUPACT-IIIs per week is the throughput" at WIPP. The typo is obvious. SRIC also does not believe that the goal is achievable even in relation to IIs.

SRIC requests responses to these comments. We also request a copy of the PMP as it is submitted to Headquarters.

Thank you for your careful consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,

Don Hancock


For further information contact us at sricdon@earthlink.net or call (505) 262-1862, fax: (505) 262-1864.


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