Los Alamos Lab’s Future at a Crossroads: Cleanup or More Nuclear Weapons? NukeWatch Applauds NM State Rejection of Fake Cleanup

Santa Fe, NM – In an important win for genuine cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has rejected the Lab’s plans for so-called cleanup through “cap and cover.” LANL’s plan would leave existing radioactive and toxic wastes uncharacterized and forever buried in unlined pits and trenches as a permanent threat to groundwater. At issue is remediation of the Lab’s “Material Disposal Area C” waste dump that has 7 pits and 108 shafts of radioactive and toxic wastes. Area C is located in the heart of nuclear weapons production at LANL, contiguous to the Lab’s main plutonium facility which is expanding production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores.

In a September 7, 2023 “Public Notice of Statement of Basis,” the Environment Department ruled:

“For maximum protection of human health and the environment and to ensure that the drinking water resource can be conservatively protected, NMED has determined that the selected [cleanup] remedy for MDA C must consist of waste excavation, characterization, and appropriate disposal of the buried waste… Excavation will ensure that the source of contamination at MDA C is removed…”

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NNSA’s mission is plutonium pit production…for the next 30 years and beyond.


As you can see clearly in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s chart above, NNSA is getting ready to dump radioactive wastes from plutonium pit production at WIPP for the next 30 years.

Waste from expanded pit production will soon far outweigh cleanup wastes.

Despite being located in New Mexico, out-of-state sites have been given priority over radioactive wastes from Los Alamos Lab.

ALL FUTURE PIT PRODUCTION is for speculative new designs that can’t be tested because of the international testing moratorium, thereby perhaps eroding confifidence in the stockpile. Or, alternatively, these new designs could push the U.S. into resuming testing, which would have severe proliferation consequences.

Pit production will add an estimated 57,550 cubic meters of radioactive plutonium wastes over 50 years, more than half of WIPP’s projected future capacity. The National Academy of Sciences has already concluded that WIPP doesn’t have sufficient capacity for all of DOE’s planned radioactive wastes.

Energy Dept. Nearly Triples Funding for Plutonium Pit Production, Cuts Cleanup in Half – But Refuses to Complete New Env. Impact Statement for Los Alamos Lab

The 2011 Las Conchas fire threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory. CREDIT: Brian Klieson.

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), announced that it will not complete a new site-wide environmental impact statement for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The last site-wide environmental impact statement was in 2008.

Since that time a catastrophic wildfire burned to the western boundary of the Lab (likely to occur more frequently with climate change); an exploding radioactive waste drum improperly prepared by LANL shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for three years, costing taxpayers ~$3 billion to reopen; the full extent and depth of a hexavalent chromium plume contaminating the regional groundwater is still not fully determined; and LANL’s long track record of chronic nuclear safety incidences remain unresolved.

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New Estimate ($377B) Raises Cost of Cold War Cleanup (Again)

EM site map GAO 2019
Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) Sites Where Cleanup Remains

At some point, DOE will have to admit that it has no idea what it will cost to cleanup the Cold War nuclear weapons complex sites. DOE should stop making more wastes until the existing wastes are remediated. The new estimate is more that twice the amount that has been spent in total since cleanup began in 1989, with the most difficult sites still to come.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Clean Up, Don’t Build Up!

The thing is that the new $377 billion estimate includes leaving much of the waste behind.

Program-Wide Strategy and Better Reporting Needed to Address Growing Environmental Cleanup Liability GAO-19-28: Published: Jan 29, 2019. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2019.

The Department of Energy is tasked with cleaning up waste from Cold War nuclear weapons production, much of which is hazardous or radioactive. The department’s Office of Environmental Management estimates that future work could cost at least $377 billion—$109 billion more than last year’s estimate.

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Principles for Safe Management and Geological Isolation of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel

Summary: The environmental risks posed by irradiated fuel are extreme: As observed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, it has “the capacity to outlast human civilization as we know it and the potential to devastate public health and the environment.” Nuclear Energy Inst., Inc. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 373 F.3d 1251 (D.C. Cir. 2004).If irradiated fuel is dispersed into the environment, its radionuclides are sufficiently toxic to cause irreparable contamination of large areas of land and entire river and lake systems and coastal ecosystems.

The risk of nuclear weapons proliferation posed by irradiated fuel is also significant. Each metric ton of spent fuel typically contains more than one Nagasaki-bomb equivalent of plutonium and, as of 2016, well over 70,000 metric tons had already be been created in the United States by the commercial nuclear power reactors. Spent fuel, storage and/or disposal may pose a risk of theft if it is stored or disposed of in a manner that would allow access in a few hundred years when the fission product radiation barrier would have declined to low levels.

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