WASHINGTON, D.C. – Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar and senior leaders from EM told an audience of the House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus last week that new initiatives in contracting and high level radioactive waste hold the potential to accelerate cleanup at key DOE sites.
Dabbar said the initiatives are indicative of bold leadership in the Department. “We are not a group that is shy about trying to approach things that are big,” he told an audience of about 125 people at the Capitol Hill event.
Discussion focused on the announcement via a Federal Register notice that DOE will interpret the statutory term “high level radioactive waste” (HLW) such that some defense wastes created through spent nuclear fuel reprocessing may be classified as not HLW and may be disposed of in accordance with their radiological characteristics and not just because of their source. Reprocessing wastes are stored in tanks at the Savannah River, Idaho and Hanford sites.
The HLW interpretation, if implemented through subsequent actions, could provide a range of benefits including reducing the length of time that radioactive waste is stored onsite, increasing safety for workers, the public, and the environment.
Dabbar said the initiative “is science-driven. It’s about radiochemistry rather than source.”
“Ultimately at the end of the day, this is not about other items, this has to do with radiological content,” Dabbar said. “Anyone who knows anything really about risk and waste, that’s about it, not where it happened to come from.”
On contracting, EM in February issued final requests for proposals on two major cleanup contracts at Hanford that will be the first to use EM’s end state contracting model. The approach calls for cleanup work to be carried out through a series of negotiated task orders that aim to get projects to completion faster and more efficiently without sacrificing safety.
Dabbar said the end state model “is aligning us and the contractors, ultimately at the end of the day, to focus on reducing risk and making certain contracts work well for both sides.”
During the panel discussion, Mark Senderling, EM deputy assistant secretary for waste and materials management, credited DOE leadership with advancing the HLW initiative.
“We have three sites with reprocessing waste that has been stored there a long, long time with no near term disposition path, and here is an option. We consider it a goal,” Senderling said. “No decisions have been made, no policies have been changed. We are going to go through the normal regulatory process to make this happen and see where it goes.”
“The deal is accelerated cleanup,” Senderling said. “If our goals are achieved, we will clean up sites faster and that’s where we want to go.”
Regarding end state contracting, Norbert Doyle, EM deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and project management, said the new approach will not affect DOE’s commitment to providing subcontracting opportunities to small businesses, nor to maintaining community commitment clauses in its contracts.
Doyle said efficiencies achieved through the end state model will carry a payoff.
“Obviously every dollar we save because we are more efficient is another dollar we can do the actual cleanup mission with, which is the goal,” he said.
Jeff Griffin, EM associate principal deputy assistant secretary for field operations, said the end state contracting model carries new responsibilities for field sites to negotiate task orders and work with contractors.
“Ultimately, this has to be a partnership,” Griffin said. “The contractor and the government are operating in a partnership. That is the only way it’s going to work.”
The cleanup caucus is composed of U.S. House members who represent cleanup communities and other lawmakers interested in the cleanup mission.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, the caucus chair, said the DOE program that remediates the environmental legacy of Cold War weapons production and nuclear research is deserving of support.
“Cleaning up legacy sites is something that all Americans can get behind and should get behind,” he said. “It’s a federal obligation and I think that is so critically important.”