A man standing at a podium beside a screen with a powerpoint presentation he is giving

EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) Manager Michael Mikolanis provides an update on the EM-LA strategic vision initiative and stakeholder participation, and outlines next steps for completing the vision on the remaining Los Alamos National Laboratory legacy cleanup projects.

PHOENIX — As EM continues to advance the legacy cleanup mission underway at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a key focus is instilling a strong culture of operational excellence and effective communication, EM and contractor representatives said here last week.

In a series of panels at this year’s Waste Management Symposia, leadership with the EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) and LANL legacy cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) highlighted the progress of the LANL legacy cleanup mission and planning for the future.

“Environmental remediation is a righteous mission,” N3B President and General Manager Brad Smith said. “Unless we do our work with excellence, we end up not only damaging the environment, but potentially ourselves, our families and our communities.”

New Technology Can Aid Waste Disposition

Smith outlined for Waste Management attendees the significant cleanup progress realized at LANL since 2018, including:

  • Meeting 89 of 90 regulatory milestones as agreed to between EM-LA and the New Mexico Environment Department;
  • Treating 424.5 million gallons of groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, enough water to fill approximately 642 Olympic-sized pools;
  • Completing cleanup at Middle DP Road Site, a project critical to Los Alamos County meeting its economic development needs;
  • Completing 171 shipments of transuranic (TRU) waste to EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP); and
  • Shipping more than 16,960 cubic meters of waste offsite from all waste streams, which is enough to fill more than 81,000 55-gallon drums or a football field more than 10 feet deep in waste.

EM-LA and N3B are examining the use of new technology that could further improve waste disposition efforts, Jeff Stevens, N3B acting executive officer, told the conference. A key step in waste disposition is performing an assay to ensure the waste is appropriately characterized as either TRU, requiring disposal at WIPP, or low-level waste, which can be disposed of at other licensed offsite facilities. The Universal Drum Assay and Segregation System, undergoing pilot project testing by N3B, has the potential to be more sensitive and accurate than the current assay approach of real-time radiography, according to Stevens.

“The volume [of disposal capacity] at WIPP is precious,” Stevens said. “Hopefully, this will work out well and be a great technology for the other sites.”

A man standing at a podium speaking beside a table of panelists listening to him

N3B President and General Manager Brad Smith shares how a workforce culture focused on safety helps support cleanup progress, and employee involvement in planning the work leads to increased ownership on the job.

Legacy Cleanup Workforce ‘In This Mission Together’

To ensure continued cleanup success today and in the future, N3B is working to instill a culture of disciplined and safe operations throughout its workforce, according to Smith. That has been especially important as new workers have joined the legacy cleanup mission without past nuclear related experience, he said.

Among the steps N3B has taken is an increased awareness of the role workforce culture plays in safely and successfully performing cleanup work, as well as increasing employee involvement in work planning and control so employees feel increased ownership in their activities, Smith said. He also noted that N3B has made a significant effort in improving its overall safety culture so workers feel comfortable in raising safety concerns, and stopping work if necessary, without fear of retaliation.

“I want my workforce to feel we’re in this mission together,” Smith said.

Also key to current and future cleanup success is effective communication, EM-LA Manager Michael Mikolanis said at the conference. That includes ensuring effective communication on various risks, as well as communicating to stakeholders the pros and cons of various cleanup approaches.

“The solution is safety, transparency, and respect, and balancing feedback with our regulator,” Mikolanis said.

Long Term Strategic Vision Halfway Through Development

Mikolanis also provided an update on EM-LA’s work to develop a long term strategic vision to guide the remaining legacy cleanup mission at LANL. This effort, led by N3B subcontractor Longenecker & Associates, has involved a multi-phase effort to solicit values and priorities from a wide array of engagement groups, including pueblos and stakeholders in Northern New Mexico, with more than 2,000 comments received, according to Mikolanis. Work is underway to analyze the feedback provided and develop guiding principles to shape the strategic vision, with public meetings planned to solicit additional feedback.

EM-LA currently anticipates completing the strategic vision by early 2025, Mikolanis said. While the vision is not yet finished, Mikolanis highlighted several successes already realized, including strengthening trust and relationships with pueblos and stakeholders, and increasing and enhancing knowledge of the LANL legacy cleanup mission.

“DOE wants to respect the people impacted by Los Alamos National Lab legacy waste,” Mikolanis said. “You can’t communicate enough to stakeholder groups.”

-Contributors: Mike Nartker, Todd Nelson