NRC Joins Five Other Agencies in Reporting on Navajo Land Contamination

Maureen Conley
Public Affairs Officer
 

navajoThe government has made good progress in reducing risks from uranium contamination on Navajo land, five federal agencies told Congress in a report last week. EPA compiled the report with input from the NRC, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and the Indian Health Service.

This report recaps work done since October 2007. At that time, Congress asked the agencies to develop a five-year plan to address the contamination, which dates back to the 1940s.

Demand for uranium skyrocketed near the end of World War II. The ore was needed for nuclear weapons manufacturing and later to fuel commercial power reactors. The Navajo Nation lands had large uranium deposits, but mining and milling then was not nearly as regulated as it is today. Mining companies left extensive contamination requiring cleanup.

In 1978 Congress passed a law to ensure that uranium mill waste (called tailings) would be safely managed into the future. Under that law, DOE is responsible for the long-term care and maintenance of four former mill sites: Tuba City, Ariz.; Shiprock, N.M.; Mexican Hat, Utah; and Monument Valley, Ariz.

The NRC oversees DOE’s work at those sites. For example, DOE is responsible for cleaning up contaminated groundwater at the sites. The NRC reviews those cleanup plans. DOE monitors disposal facilities for uranium mill tailings. The NRC observes DOE inspections at the sites. The NRC also reviews and comments on DOE’s performance and environmental reports.

While the NRC does not regulate mine cleanup, the agency will also be working closely with EPA, DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the Navajo Nation during the cleanup of a contaminated mine site in Church Rock, N.M. This conventional strip mine operated from 1967 to 1982. EPA plans call for the mine waste to be disposed at the nearby Church Rock mill site, which must be done in compliance with NRC disposal regulations.

Over the past five years, NRC staff has met many times with members of the Navajo Nation. We will continue these oversight and outreach activities.

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant – A 2013 Update

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer
Region IV
 

fcsAs we turn the page on a new year, the NRC is watching closely as the operators of the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, located in Omaha, Neb., are working around the clock in hopes of returning the plant to service. It remains to be seen if the NRC is convinced the efforts of the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) are sufficient.

The plant has been powered down since April 9, 2011, for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to historic flooding along the Missouri River followed by an electrical fire that led to an “Alert” declaration and further restart complications.

On Jan. 8, OPPD officials and the NRC Fort Calhoun Oversight Panel members met before the five-member NRC Commission to discuss the current plant status. Positive change is on the horizon. “They [OPPD] are looking at problems with a different set of eyes today,” said Mike Hay, NRC Branch Chief and panel member. Some NRC Commissioners also noted the efforts by OPPD management to turn things around. It is also clear more work needs to be done.

In November 2012, the NRC issued a detailed inspection plan listing some 450 items that require attention, inspection, and resolution. Many of these items are subsets of the familiar issues that have been reported over the past two years including the breaker fire, flood strategy concerns, containment penetrations, and containment internal structures issues.

In 2013, there will be numerous NRC inspectors carrying out a very rigorous inspection schedule. A five-member team has already been on site for two weeks to independently verify results from a third-party safety culture assessment done last year. As part of the inspection, NRC held focus group interviews with plant works to assess the current climate and help the NRC understand how in tune management is with staff. Later in February, these results will be used to fuel a second, larger team inspection to fully assess human performance and safety culture at Fort Calhoun.

There is more to come. There will be an announcement soon with details for the next public meeting in Nebraska. The staff will continue to post updates and helpful information to the Fort Calhoun specific Web site.

%d bloggers like this: