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Efforts to replace Los Alamos facility behind schedule, DOE OIG reports.

Efforts to replace a nearly 50-year-old radioactive waste treatment facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory are 11 years behind schedule and cost almost 150 percent of what originally was estimated because of ineffective management, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports.

The OIG notes that Los Alamos' primary responsibility is "to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile," and the facility is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons complex.

"To meet its mission, Los Alamos stores, treats and disposes of low-level waste and transuranic liquid waste (TRU) at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF).

"The facility has been in operation since 1963," the OIG reports.

Over the years, "the facility's systems have degraded and, on multiple occasions, failed, leaving Los Alamos with no method of processing radioactive liquid waste while the necessary repairs were made," the report comments.

"Los Alamos officials have stated that, over time, facility systems are expected to fail again, limiting the Laboratory's ability to meet mission requirements."

NNSA and Los Alamos have been planning a replacement project for the RLWTF since 2004, and made multiple changes in the design of the facility; Plans called for constructing two facilities in 2005, one facility in 2006, and then returned to the two facilities approach in 2011, the report says.

"The current two facility design, consisting of one facility for low-level waste and one for TRU waste, has a total estimated project cost as much as $214 million and respective completion dates of 2017 and 2020.

"The two facilities will provide similar capabilities as the existing facility and will be designed to have a 50-year life expectancy," the OIG says.

"While NNSA has recently taken action to address RLWTF replacement project issues, we observed that the NNSA and Los Alamos had not effectively managed the project over most of its lifecycle. Despite more than seven years of effort, and the expenditure of $56 million, design work for the TRU facility has not been completed and the project's completion date is 11 years behind schedule. Furthermore, the total estimated cost for the replacement project has increased from $86 million to as much as $214 million, a 149 percent increase," the OIG reports.

The OIG says Los Alamos officials have taken action to minimize liquid radioactive waste generation "by implementing practices to limit the amount of newly generated waste sent to the existing waste treatment facility."

"This reduction in waste volumes enabled the site to reduce the planned volume of waste for treatment, thereby reducing the square footage of space and the safety systems and components required for the replacement facility design. Specifically, according to NNSA, based on current evaluations of pollution prevention measures on the past and current waste volume amounts, the two facilities will be designed with the capacity to process about 65 percent less TRU and 47 percent less low-level waste per year than previously forecasted."

The report concludes that while NNSA and Los Alamos have made improvements in managing the project, "we suggest that the Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management and the Manager, Los Alamos Field Office: (1) ensure continuous monitoring of the RLWTF design and construction activities including Los Alamos' use of value engineering principles and the technical performance of the project; and (2) optimize opportunities to mitigate risks and reduce costs throughout the project to completion."

Source: Office of Inspector General, Department of Energy
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Publication:Nuclear Waste News
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Oct 24, 2013
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