[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 43 (Friday, March 4, 2016)]
[Pages 11597-11600]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-04863]



[Docket No. 030-28641; NRC-2015-0054]

Department of the Air Force; Hill Air Force Base, Utah

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact; 


SUMMARY: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering an 
amendment to Master Materials License 42-23539-01AF, Docket No. 030-
28641, issued to the Department of the Air Force (the licensee). This 
amendment will allow the licensee to decommission a former magnesium-
thorium alloy disposal trench at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in 
accordance with instructions provided in an NRC-approved 
decommissioning plan. The NRC conducted an environmental impact 
assessment in support of this licensing action. Based on the results of 
this assessment, the NRC concluded that a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) is appropriate.

DATES: The license amendment will be issued on March 4, 2016.

ADDRESSES: Please refer to Docket ID NRC-2015-0054 when contacting the 
NRC about the availability of information regarding this document. You 
may obtain publicly-available information related to this document 
using any of the following methods:
     Federal Rulemaking Web site: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2015-0054. Address 
questions about NRC dockets to Carol Gallagher; telephone: 301-415-
3463; email: [email protected]. For technical questions, contact 
the individual listed in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section of 
this document.
     NRC's Agencywide Documents Access and Management System 
(ADAMS): You may obtain publicly available documents online in the 
ADAMS Public Documents collection at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. To begin the search, select ``ADAMS Public Documents'' and 
then select ``Begin Web-based ADAMS Search.'' For problems with ADAMS, 
please contact the NRC's Public Document Room (PDR) reference staff at 
1-800-397-4209, 301-415-4737, or by email to [email protected]. The 
ADAMS accession number for each document referenced in this document 
(if that document is available in ADAMS) is provided the first time 
that a document is referenced.
     NRC's PDR: You may examine and purchase copies of public 
documents at the NRC's PDR, Room O1-F21, One White Flint North, 11555 
Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1600 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington, TX 
76011; telephone: 817-200-1197, email: [email protected].


[[Page 11598]]

I. Introduction

    The NRC is considering the issuance of an amendment to Materials 
License 42-23539-01AF, issued to the Department of the Air Force 
(licensee), to approve a proposed Decommissioning Plan (DP) for 
remediation of a magnesium-thorium alloy burial pit located at Hill Air 
Force Base, Utah. As required by part 51 of title 10 of the Code of 
Federal Regulations (10 CFR), the NRC performed an environmental 
assessment of the proposed activity. Based on the results of the 
environmental assessment that follows, the NRC has determined not to 
prepare an environmental impact statement for the license amendment, 
and is issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
    A detailed Environmental Assessment (EA) for this project was 
prepared by the NRC and can be found in ADAMS under Accession No. 
ML16013A246. A summary of the environmental assessment is provided 
below. In addition, the NRC staff analyzed the radiological and 
industrial safety impacts to workers and the public. The resulting 
Safety Evaluation Report can be found in ADAMS under Accession No. 

Background Information

    The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) issued Source Material 
License C-3650 (Docket No. 040-00204) to the Marquardt Aircraft Company 
of Van Nuys, California, in January 1957 for possession of magnesium-
thorium alloy. In June 1961, Marquardt requested AEC approval to burn 
machine chips and small pieces of magnesium-thorium scrap material in 
trenches at the Little Mountain Test Annex (LMTA) at Hill Air Force 
Base, Utah. Docket file records (ADAMS Accession No. ML16021A132) 
indicate that 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms) of scrap alloy was buried in 
June 1959, 1,500 pounds (680.4 kilograms) of alloy was buried in 
February 1960, and 3,600 pounds (1,633 kilograms) of alloy was 
incinerated within the burial pit in August 1961. No other records of 
disposals were provided in the AEC's docket file.
    In September 1961, License C-3650 expired, and License STB-434 was 
issued to the licensee. The AEC subsequently terminated License STB-434 
in April 1971. During the time frame that the two licenses were active, 
regulation 10 CFR 20.304 allowed licensees to dispose of certain 
radioactive wastes by burial. The AEC allowed License STB-434 to be 
terminated in 1971 without consideration of the magnesium-thorium alloy 
that had been incinerated and buried at LMTA. Effective January 28, 
1981, approximately 10 years after termination of the license, NRC 
regulations in 10 CFR part 20 were amended (45 FR 71761) to delete 
Section 20.304.
    In November 1993, an NRC inspector visited the LMTA to 
independently ascertain whether the magnesium-thorium alloy burial 
trench was still present at the facility (ADAMS Accession No. 
ML16021A132). The inspector identified two apparent disposal pits, 
based on changes in topography and changes in background radiation 
exposure rates. In response, the licensee and its contractors conducted 
five separate investigations from 1993-2013 to determine the extent of 
surface and subsurface radiological contamination at the site. The 
investigations confirmed that the surface and subsurface soils were 
contaminated with thorium-232. The licensee estimated that the volume 
of soil to be remediated was approximately 2,420 cubic yards (1,850 
cubic meters), including swelling and over-excavation factors.
    The licensee submitted a draft decommissioning Plan (DP) to the NRC 
by Memorandum dated May 12, 2014 (ADAMS Accession No. ML14197A685). 
This submittal included a final status survey plan and derived 
concentration guideline level evaluation for Site WR-111, the 
licensee's designation for the burial trench. In response to 
preliminary comments from NRC staff, the licensee provided supplemental 
information by Memorandum dated September 12, 2014. [The September 12, 
2014, submittal contained non-publicly available information. The 
submittal was redacted by the Air Force and re-released as publicly 
available on December 18, 2014, ADAMS Accession No. ML15030A218]. This 
supplemental information included a licensee request for a waiver from 
the environmental impact assessment process.
    In support of this request for a waiver, the licensee submitted an 
environmental assessment (EA) and FONSI (ADAMS Accession No. 
ML15030A218) to the NRC dated March 2014 involving a proposed emergency 
power unit overhaul complex at the LMTA. This particular EA included 
the area encompassing the magnesium-thorium decommissioning project at 
LMTA, but this EA did not specifically address the proposed 
decommissioning project at Site WR-111 itself. Citing regulation 32 CFR 
part 989, appendix B, the licensee requested a categorical exclusion 
from further analysis of those actions that are similar to other 
actions which have been determined to have an insignificant impact in a 
similar setting as established in an environmental impact statement or 
an environmental assessment resulting in a FONSI. In other words, the 
licensee requested a categorical exclusion from the environmental 
assessment process for Site WR-111 based on the completion of a similar 
EA and FONSI for the LMTA in March 2014.
    The NRC staff acknowledges the licensee's request for a categorical 
exclusion; however, NUREG-1748, Environmental Review Guidance for 
Licensing Actions Associated with NMSS Programs (ADAMS Accession No. 
ML032450279), Section 1.6.1, states that another agency's EA can be 
adopted by the NRC, but the NRC is responsible for preparing its own EA 
in accordance with the requirements of 10 CFR 51.32-35. The NRC must 
prepare a site-specific EA and FONSI (as appropriate) to ensure that 
the site-specific aspects have been addressed.

Facility Description

    The LMTA is a 740-acre (300-hectare) facility managed by Hill Air 
Force Base. The property is located approximately 15 miles northwest of 
Hill Air Force Base in a remote section of Weber County, Utah. The 
disposal trench (Site WR-111) is located in the southeastern corner of 
LMTA. The area of the trench is estimated to be 170 feet (52 meters) by 
170 feet (52 meters). There are no buildings or structures within or 
immediately adjacent to the WR-111 site.
    The current land use is military and industrial, with extensive 
rangeland present around the property. Industrial properties are 
located approximately 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to the northeast of the 
WR-111 site. The nearest residence is situated about 2 miles (3.2 
kilometers) east of the site. The land use is not expected to change in 
the near future, and the Federal Government plans to continue to 
control the LMTA property for research and development activities.
    The groundwater at the WR-111 site is reported to occur between 34-
57 feet (10.4-17.4 meters) below ground surface. Four monitoring wells 
were installed around the site in 2006, in part, to determine if the 
contents of the disposal trench have infiltrated into the groundwater. 
The licensee's contractor sampled the wells in November 2006. Based on 
these sample results, the licensee's contractor concluded that the 
buried thorium waste was not leaching into the local groundwater.

[[Page 11599]]

II. Environmental Assessment

Description of the Proposed Action

    The NRC's proposed action is to amend License 42-23539-01AF, 
approving the proposed DP, as supplemented. The licensee would then be 
authorized to conduct decommissioning as specified in the NRC-approved 
DP. Concurrently with the approval of the DP, the NRC plans to approve 
the licensee's proposed site-specific soil cleanup criteria and final 
status survey plan.
    The decommissioning work includes excavating the trench with heavy 
equipment, packaging and transporting the excavated material to an 
offsite location for permanent disposal, conducting radiological 
surveys to confirm that the site has been completely remediated, and 
backfilling the trench with clean material. After completion of 
decommissioning, the NRC is expected to review the licensee's proposed 
final status survey results and conduct an independent radiological 
survey to confirm the licensee's final status survey results.

Need for the Proposed Action

    The purpose of the proposed action is to reduce the residual 
radioactivity at Site WR-111 to levels that allow release of the 
property for unrestricted use. If the licensee conducts site 
remediation in accordance with instructions provided in the DP, the 
licensee will be in compliance with the radiological criteria for 
license termination, as specified in regulation 10 CFR part 20, subpart 
E. Approval of the DP would allow the NRC to fulfill its 
responsibilities under the Atomic Energy Act to ensure protection of 
the public health and safety and environment.

Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Action

    In its EA and FONSI dated March 14, 2014, the Air Force summarized 
the potential impacts of the proposed construction of four buildings 
and demolition of two buildings at the LMTA to support the overhaul of 
emergency power units used in fighter aircraft. The Air Force 
identified and analyzed four environmental effects--air quality, solid 
and hazardous wastes, biological resources, and water quality. The NRC 
staff reviewed the licensee's environmental impact assessment with an 
emphasis on the potential impacts that may occur while conducting 
decommissioning work at Site WR-111.
    The first environmental impact is air quality. This impact was 
analyzed by the Air Force because the location of the project (Weber 
County, Utah) is not in complete attainment status with Federal clean 
air standards. For this reason, the Air Force attempts to control 
emissions originating from Hill Air Force Base. The potential air 
quality impacts resulting from decommissioning Site WR-111 would 
include fugitive dust from ground disturbance and emissions from 
construction/transportation equipment.
    At Site WR-111, the primary short-term health hazard to site 
workers is the potential for airborne radioactivity during excavation 
remediation. In response, the licensee's contractor committed to 
implement engineering controls to suppress dust and to conduct air 
sampling. If the air samplers indicate the presence of airborne 
radioactive dust, the work will be suspended until the cause of the 
radioactive dust is identified and corrected. The contractor also 
committed to cover soil piles as practical and use silt fencing as 
needed. Another potential impact on air quality involves emissions from 
equipment and vehicles that are used to excavate the trenches, ship the 
radioactive wastes for disposal, and transport workers to and from the 
jobsite. The NRC staff concluded that the overall air quality impact 
will be minimal due to the limited duration of the project.
    The second environmental impact is solid and hazardous wastes. The 
licensee plans to manage and dispose of the radioactive wastes in 
accordance with instructions provided in the DP and associated work 
plan. Non-radioactive hazardous wastes are not expected to be 
encountered during decommissioning. In addition, liquid hazardous 
wastes are not expected to be created. The contractor will sample the 
radioactive wastes for non-radiological hazardous waste constituents to 
ensure that the wastes are acceptable for shipment to the chosen 
disposal site.
    The third environmental impact involves biological resources. At 
the WR-111 site, the decommissioning work will result in temporary loss 
of habitat and displacement of animal species, specifically, mule deer 
and rodents. However, the footprint of the decommissioning project is 
small, 1 acre (0.4 hectares), and the contractor and licensee plan to 
restore the property after completion of work. Therefore, the short-
term decommissioning of Site WR-111 would have a minimal impact on 
biological resources.
    The fourth analyzed environmental impact involves water quality. 
There are no surface water sources in the vicinity of the proposed work 
area; therefore, the work should have no impact on surface waters. The 
work should not have an impact on groundwater because the groundwater 
table is below the depth of the excavation. There may be a potential 
impact from storm water during work activities, but the contractor has 
developed procedures to respond to potential rainwater runoff during 
work activities.
    The Air Force eliminated several issues from further study, such as 
cultural resources. Cultural resources include archaeological, 
architectural, and traditional cultural properties. In the Air Force's 
assessment, it explained that four previous cultural surveys were 
conducted in the area, and no cultural resources were identified. The 
NRC staff noted that the location of the disposal trench had already 
been disturbed; therefore, excavation of the radioactive material from 
the trench will not result in the disturbance of any new area not 
already disturbed.
    Other issues eliminated from further study by the Air Force 
included impacts on geology and surface soils, occupational safety and 
health, noise, accident potential, airfield encroachment, and socio-
economic resources. The NRC staff reviewed these potential impacts and 
concluded that none would be significantly affected by the 
decommissioning of Site WR-111. For example, occupational safety and 
health was eliminated from consideration because the contractor will 
use trained individuals and approved procedures to control the work.

Environmental Impacts of the Alternatives to the Proposed Action

    As an alternative to the proposed action, the staff considered 
denial of the proposed action (i.e., the ``no-action'' alternative). 
The no-action alternative assumes that the status quo is maintained. 
With respect to the WR-111 site, the no-action alternative means that 
the licensee would not be allowed to conduct decommissioning work, and 
the disposal trench would continue to remain onsite at the LMTA.
    The no-action alternative is not acceptable because it violates the 
NRC's Timeliness Rule regulations that are specified in 10 CFR part 
30.36. The Timeliness Rule requires licensees to decommission their 
facilities in a timely manner when licensed activities have permanently 
ceased. In addition, the radioactive contamination at Site WR-111 
currently exceeds the radiological criteria for license termination as 
specified in subpart E to 10 CFR part 20. Approval of the no-action 
alternative would prevent the licensee from conducting decommissioning 
work as necessary to release the site for

[[Page 11600]]

unrestricted use under subpart E requirements.

Agencies and Persons Consulted

    In accordance with its stated policy, the NRC consulted with the 
Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Waste Management 
and Radiation Control, regarding the environmental assessment and 
safety evaluation impacts of the proposed action (ADAMS Accession No. 
ML15338A187). On January 6, 2016, the State agency informed the NRC 
that it had no comments on the proposed action (ADAMS Accession No. 
    As part of its 2014 environmental assessment process for the 
overhaul complex, the Air Force consulted with local Tribes and the 
Utah Division of State History. The Air Force provided documentation of 
their responses as attachments to its EA. The Utah Division of State 
History and the Hopi Tribe concurred with the finding of no adverse 
impacts, and the Navajo Nation concluded that the proposed project 
would not have an impact on Navajo traditional cultural properties 
(ADAMS Accession Nos. ML15282A470 and ML15282A476). The NRC staff did 
not consult with these State and tribal entities, due to the results of 
the Air Force's consultations.
    The NRC staff determined that the proposed action will not affect 
listed species or critical habitats based on the results of previous 
consultations provided by the Air Force to the NRC. Therefore, no 
further consultations are required under Section 7 of the Endangered 
Species Act. Likewise, the NRC staff determined that the proposed 
action is not the type of activity that has the potential to cause 
effects on historic properties, in part, because there are no 
structures located at or adjacent to Site WR-111. Therefore, no further 
consultation is required under Section 106 of the National Historic 
Preservation Act.

III. Finding of No Significant Impact

    The NRC staff concluded that the proposed decommissioning project 
at Site WR-111 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will have a minimal impact 
on the environment. The NRC staff considered air quality, solid and 
hazardous wastes, biological resources, water quality, cultural 
resources, and worker safety. In addition, the staff determined that 
the affected environment and the environmental impacts associated with 
the decommissioning of Site WR-111 are bounded by the impacts evaluated 
by NUREG-1496, ``Generic Environmental Impact Statement in Support of 
Rulemaking on Radiological Criteria for License Termination of NRC-
Licensed Nuclear Facilities'' (ADAMS Accession No. ML042310492).
    Based on the analysis contained in this EA, the NRC staff concludes 
that the proposed action will not have a significant effect on the 
quality of the human environment and has determined not to prepare an 
environmental impact statement for the proposed action. Accordingly, 
the NRC has determined that a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) 
is appropriate.

    Dated at Arlington, Texas, this 17th day of February 2016.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Jack E. Whitten,
Chief, Nuclear Materials Safety Branch B, Division of Nuclear Materials 
Safety, Region IV Office.
[FR Doc. 2016-04863 Filed 3-3-16; 8:45 am]