Richard Atkinson, Chairman,
State Advisory Group on Low-
Level Radioactive Waste Disposal
Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin Street, 12th Floor
Oakland, CA 94607-5200
State Advisory Group on
Long-Term Options for
Permanent Disposal of
|Dear President Atkinson,
The California Radioactive Materials Management Forum (Cal Rad Forum)* herewith submits for consideration by the State Advisory Group on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal and its Scientific Panel several long-term options for the permanent disposal of low-level radioactive waste generated in the four states of the Southwestern Compact region (Arizona, California, North Dakota, and South Dakota). Suggested near-term options for permanent disposal of LLRW will be submitted at a future date. We encourage the Advisory Group to consider disposal options in near-term and long-term time frames which reflect how soon an option can be implemented. Near-term and long-term options do not necessarily compete with each other, and options in both categories should be considered.
We respectfully request that the Advisory Group and Panel evaluate the options described below for their ability to provide timely, safe, environmentally acceptable permanent disposal of all the low-level radioactive waste generated in the Southwestern Compact region the disposal of which is a state responsibility pursuant to the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 (Public Law 99-240, Sec. 3 Responsibilities for Disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste). California’s obligation to the party states and users of radioactive materials in the Compact region is disposal for thirty years.
Six Long-Term Options for Permanent Disposal of LLRW
•Ward Valley. The disposal facility proposed to be located at Ward Valley, California as licensed by the California Department of Health Services to be constructed and operated by US Ecology, Inc. and operated as the first regional disposal facility for the Southwestern Compact.
• "The Davis Option" at Ward Valley. The disposal facility proposed to be located at Ward Valley, California as licensed by the California Department of Health Services but operated and constructed by a different company as the first regional disposal facility for the Southwestern Compact.
• Buttonwillow in Kern County. Conversion of the existing hazardous waste disposal facility at Buttonwillow in Kern County, California to a disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste pursuant to the requirements of Title 10 Part 61 of the Code of Federal Regulations and Title 17 of the California Regulatory Code to be operated as the first regional disposal facility for the Southwestern Compact.
•Cady Site in San Bernardino County Near Newberry Springs. Construction and operation of a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility pursuant to 10 CFR 61 and Title 17 CRC as the first regional disposal facility for the Southwestern Compact at the Hidden Valley site in San Bernardino County formerly proposed as the site of a hazardous waste disposal facility.
• Other sites. Construction and operation of a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility pursuant to 10 CFR 61 and Title 17 CRC as the first regional disposal facility for the Southwestern Compact at a site reviewed in the State of California’s site screening and selection process that resulted in the initial selection of three sites (Silurian Valley, Panamint Valley, and Ward Valley) and final selection of the Ward Valley site.
• Existing LLRW Disposal Facilities Operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Use of Department of Energy facilities for disposal of "commercial" LLRW on a long-term basis would require a change in federal law.)
• The Ward Valley Site as licensed
With the exception of the Davis Option for Ward Valley (discussed next), this is the only option not requiring detailed site characterization, the filing of a new license application, regulatory review, preparation of a new Draft and Final Environmental Impact Report, and issuance of a new license. This process, including court proceedings to consider and eventually deny a legal challenge to the license, took ten years for Ward Valley. The Ward Valley site has the further advantage of an extra-procedural review by a panel of scientists appointed by the National Academy of Sciences. That review confirmed the safety findings made by the California Department of Health Services and found that the proposed Ward Valley disposal facility poses no threat to the Colorado River. Another advantage of this option is the availability of a willing constructor/operator already licensed by the California Department of Health Services. (See letter dated November 15, 1999 to President Atkinson from American Ecology, Inc.)
Cal Rad has been advised by an official of the U.S. Department of the Interior that all it will take to reactivate the State’s application for purchase of federal land at Ward Valley is a letter from the State. The federal government’s failure to honor the previous State of California administration’s 1992 application for purchase of the Ward Valley lands has been shown to be politically motivated. Given the changed political situation in California, there is every reason to believe that a serious land purchase request by the current State administration would be honored by the federal government.
Ward Valley, as licensed, remains the safest, fastest, most reliable way for California to implement important federal and state environmental laws regarding the safe disposal of LLRW and to fulfill its thirty-year statutory and contractual obligations under the Southwestern Compact Consent Act.
On December 2, 1999 President Atkinson, citing the thorough and exhaustive record that exists for Ward Valley, instructed the Advisory Group that it "...will not consider the Ward Valley site as part of its mission." Therefore, the challenge facing the Advisory Group is to try to find another permanent disposal option as good as, or better than, Ward Valley based on such criteria as safety, environmental acceptability, reliability, timeliness, etc. Failing that challenge, Ward Valley is the default option, and the Ward Valley record is available to Governor Davis as the basis for a decision to proceed based on, indeed compelled by, science and the law. To carry out its work, the Advisory Group and its Scientific Panel will necessarily have to become familiar with and make comparisons with the factors that led the California Department of Health Services to issue a license for Ward Valley.
• The Davis Option:
The Ward Valley Site With A Different Constructor/Operator.
"I believe in good
science. The National Academy of Sciences has determined that Ward Valley
might be a suitable site for the disposal of hazardous waste. Such a
determination would weigh heavily in any decision I would make as Governor
on this issue. However, I have grave concerns about the current operator,
U.S. Ecology, that has been considered for Ward Valley."
Cal Rad has been advised by the Governor’s office that this campaign statement is still "operative."
Governor Davis’ position during the 1998 campaign is similar to the position he took as State Controller in 1993 when he said, "If you get a good operator and a good site, I’m a ‘yes’ vote." In response to an interviewer’s question, "Would you like to see a different company come in to manage it at Ward Valley?" Controller Davis said, "Absolutely. Why don't we have Westinghouse, or General Electric, or Bechtel? Let’s get a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t want its reputation sullied." (January 18, 1993 on San Francisco public radio KQED-FM.)
Cal Rad Does not share Governor Davis’ concern about the qualifications of U.S. Ecology. U.S. Ecology safely disposed of California’s LLRW for many years at the Beatty, Nevada and Richland, Washington disposal facilities. The California Department of Health Services found U.S. Ecology to be fully qualified and issued the company a license. U.S. Ecology is the only applicant, whether public agency or private corporation, to successfully obtain a license for a new regional LLRW disposal facility since passage of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act.
Nevertheless, given the Governor’s position, we recommend the Advisory Group evaluate the "Davis option" which would, of course, require the State to fulfill its obligations to U.S. Ecology. This option has many of the same attributes as cited for the Ward Valley as Licensed option. Elements of the evaluation are suggested below. With the cooperation and support of federal and state governments, we are confident that private companies will be willing and able to do the job.
• Cady Site Near Newberry Springs in San Bernardino County.
A site in the Cady Mountains, near Newberrry Springs, has been previously proposed as a hazardous waste disposal facility. A joint county/federal Draft Environmental Impact Report was prepared in 1992 by San Bernardino County and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the Hidden Valley Resources Residuals Repository.
The site is in private ownership, and the owner claims favorable site hydrogeology and other characteristics. We suggest this site be evaluated by the Advisory Group and the Scientific Panel.
• Other Sites.
Some sixteen sites were evaluated during the site screening and selection process that resulted in the designation of Ward Valley as the site of the Southwestern Compact’s regional disposal facility. The process included review of the sixteen Candidate Site Areas (CSAs) by representatives of Native American tribes. We recommend the Scientific Panel review the documentation on rejected and alternative CSAs in Proponents Environmental Assessment, Vol. 1, Appendix B.
• Existing LLRW Disposal Facilities Operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Cal Rad believes the Advisory Group should focus its efforts on disposal options that meet California’s environmental and safety needs within the existing framework of federal and state laws under which states are responsible for low-level waste disposal and regional disposal is encouraged. Indeed, governmental responsibility and California’s legal and contractual obligations to the party states of the Southwestern Compact and radioactive materials users in the Compact region make this focus by the Advisory Group imperative.
Some have suggested that the existing legal framework of state responsibility be dissolved. We doubt this would relieve California of its existing legal and contractual obligations, but disposal at federal facilities used by the Department of Energy for disposal of its own low-level wastes would be the logical result. Time permitting, the Scientific Panel might want to investigate the suitability of this option in light of DOE acceptance criteria and the nature of the waste stream for which California and other states are now responsible, liability issues that might arise, etc.
Cal Rad has suggested interim (near-term) use of DOE facilities for permanent disposal of low-level radioactive waste, the disposal of which is a state responsibility, until the Ward Valley land transfer is resolved. To date, the DOE has rejected Cal Rad’s requests despite the support of the Southwestern Compact Commission and the California Department of Health Services. We shall have more to say about this in a future communication on near-term options for permanent disposal.
Evaluation of the above options may require accomplishment of the following tasks by the Scientific Panel and/or the Advisory Group.
At the November 17th meeting of the Advisory Group at UCLA, Dr. Diana Bontá, Director of the California Department of Health Services, offered the assistance of the Department in the work of the Advisory Group. The Technical Panel, as well as the Advisory Group, may want to avail themselves of her offer.
Should you or your staff have any questions about Cal Rad’s recommendations, please call me at 925/283-5210.
Executive Director, Southwestern
Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Commission
Bruce Darling, Vice President, University of California
Professor William Kastenberg, Chairman, Scientific Panel
Belle Cole, PMR Group, Inc.
Cal Rad Forum Corporate and Institutional Members
Cal Rad Forum Board of Directors
Jennifer Hernandez, Beveridge & Diamond