Just three feet below the dusty ground, there are nearly 40 pits and 200 shafts, containing somewhere between several hundred thousand and 11 million cubic feet of waste. Large, white structures, like joyless wedding tents, dot the mesa’s surface, holding drums of waste that are intended to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and disposed of forever.
Many of these drums are especially volatile. They belong to a waste stream that was improperly packaged, causing one drum to explode at WIPP in 2014, leaking radiation and shutting down the facility for nearly three years at a $2 billion cleanup cost.
Area G, perhaps more than any other place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, represents the challenges that the U.S. Department of Energy faces in cleaning up the hundreds of waste sites at the lab while work continues to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons.
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…”
Santa Fe, NM – On Good Friday afternoon, just before the Easter weekend, the Department of Energy (DOE) posted its “Laboratory Tables”, the best source for site specific budget information. DOE boosts funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to $4.6 billion in FY 2023 (+21%), which begins October 1. With another typical $300 million in “Work for Others” (the Defense Department, FBI, CIA, etc.), LANL’s total institutional funding for FY 2023 will be approximately $4.9 billion.
Out of that, $3.6 billion is slated for core nuclear weapons research and production programs. The percentage of nuclear weapons funding at LANL has steadily grown as the Lab increasingly banks its future on plutonium “pit” bomb core production. A decade ago, nuclear weapons programs were 59% of LANL’s total institutional budget. Today it is 73%. Moreover, the remainder of Lab programs (including nonproliferation and cleanup) either directly or indirectly support nuclear weapons programs, for example through a 6% internal tax for “laboratory-directed research and development” that has historically tilted towards nuclear weapons.
LANL’s largest funding increase is for “Plutonium Modernization”, jumping 61% to $1.6 billion in FY 2023. Within that, funding to expand the production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores at LANL’s aging plutonium pit production facility is increased 68% to $588 million.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has submitted a report to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declaring its preferred plan to “cap and cover” radioactive and toxic wastes at one of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) oldest dumps. DOE’s $12 million cleanup-on-the-cheap plan for Material Disposal Area C will create a permanent nuclear waste dump above our regional groundwater. In contrast, DOE has asked Congress for one billion dollars for expanded plutonium “pit” bomb core production at LANL for fiscal year 2022 alone.
LANL used to falsely claim that groundwater contamination was impossible and even asked NMED for a waiver from even having to monitor for it. We now know that there is extensive groundwater contamination from hexavalent chromium (the carcinogen in the Erin Brockovich movie) and high explosives. Traces of plutonium have been detected 1,300 feet under Area C in regional groundwater monitoring wells. The dump also has a large toxic gaseous plume of industrial solvents known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which threatens nearby facilities.
Santa Fe, NM – The Biden Administration has finally released budget details for Department of Energy (DOE) programs that clean up Cold War contamination and radioactive and toxic wastes. In January the New Mexico Environment Department sued DOE in order to terminate a 2016 “Consent Order” that subordinated cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the budget that DOE wants, which is increased nuclear weapons production. The Biden Administration has responded by increasing proposed cleanup funding at the Lab by 33% from $226 million in FY 2021 to $333.5 million proposed for FY 2022 (which begins October 1, 2021).
August 22, 2019
The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Environmental Management Los Alamos (EMLA) field office has repeatedly claimed that “> [i.e., more than] ½ of legacy cleanup has been completed.”1 This claim doesn’t explain how this is measured. Does it mean ½ of the time, ½ of the cost, ½ of the sites, or ½ of the wastes? However it is measured, New Mexicans need to know that DOE and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are NOT talking about real comprehensive cleanup.
When EMLA and its cleanup contractor (N3B) talk about cleanup, they mean specific narrow measures for specific sites, including much paperwork and studies instead of actual cleanup. Contrary to EMLA’s self-proclaimed openness and transparency, the claim of greater that half-completed cleanup is based on decisions made without public input to leave the vast majority of radioactive and toxic wastes permanently buried above our precious groundwater.
While some Lab cleanup started in the late 1980s, tracking of the cleanup budget didn’t start until 1997, which is the date used as the beginning of “prior costs” in recent DOE Congressional Budget Requests. 2 EMLA’s current estimated date for completion of planned cleanup is 2037. That would be 22 years down and 18 to go, if we look at 1997 to 2037, which would be ½ of the time if EMLA completes its planned cleanup by 2037. If decisions are made to remove more wastes, which would be the right thing to do, cleanup could last for decades more while generating 100’s of high-paying jobs. Real, comprehensive cleanup would be well worth the wait!
The U.S. Department of Energy in 2016 drafted a list of 17 projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory and in the surrounding town to clean up soil and groundwater that remained contaminated decades after the Manhattan Project and Cold War nuclear weapons work.
At the time, more than $2 billion had been spent in a decade on environmental cleanup projects. The Department of Energy estimated it would cost another $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion to finish the job — and up to 25 more years.
The work is far from complete.
On March 1, 2005, after arduous negotiations and threats of litigation, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Department of Energy (DOE), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) entered into a Consent Order specifying the schedule for investigation and cleanup of the Lab’s hundreds of contaminated sites.
In June 2016, NMED and LANL signed a new Consent Order that solved many of LANL’s problems by removing fines and enforceable schedules.
Read/Download the full fact sheet pdf HERE
BY MARK OSWALD / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Friday, January 4th, 2019 at 11:02pm
SANTA FE – The nuclear security wing of U.S. Department of Energy has issued preliminary notice of a “serious” safety violation for a 2017 mishap at Los Alamos National Laboratory that the DOE previously described as a “near miss to a fatality.”
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board is asking Department of Energy (DOE) Environment Management and New Mexico Environment Department to address the potential impacts of the possible redefinition of high-level radioactive waste (HLW) for the board.
LANL Cleanup: Disposition of Hazardous Wastes
For Immediate Release December 20, 2017
Los Alamos Hires New Contractor – Starts Cleanup On the Cheap
Santa Fe, NM- Today the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the award of the new Los Alamos National Laboratory legacy cleanup contract to Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos, LLC. The $1.39 billion contract is for ten years, which works out to $139 million per year…
Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “This dooms the Lab to cleanup on the cheap. This 140 million dollars per year to the cleanup contractor is based on a revised Consent Order by the New Mexico Environment Department that was a give away to the Los Alamos Lab. The original 2005 Consent Order held the Department of Energy’s feet to the fire to complete real cleanup or pay stipulated penalties. In contrast, the Martinez administration gave the biggest polluter in northern New Mexico a free pass, forgiving a hundred million dollars in possible fines that should have gone to our kids’ schools. New Mexicans deserve an Environment Department under a new governor that aggressively protects the environment and creates new high-paying jobs thorough enforcing comprehensive cleanup.”
View/download the full press release
For immediate release, October 27, 2017:
Santa Fe City Council: LANL Cleanup Order Must Be Strengthened & Expanded
and Plutonium Pit Production Suspended Until Safety Issues Are Resolved
Santa Fe, NM. On the evening of Wednesday October 25, the Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution requesting that the New Mexico Environment Department strengthen the revised Los Alamos National Labs cleanup order to call for additional characterization of legacy nuclear wastes, increased cleanup funding, and significant additional safety training. The resolution also called for the suspension of any planned expanded plutonium pit production until safety issues are resolved. (view/download full press release) (view/download City Council resolution)
September 11, 2017:
Talking Points: The 2016 LANL Cleanup Consent Order Should Be Rescinded
The 2005 LANL Cleanup Consent Order was all about the enforceable schedules. It required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet…
Under Gov. Martinez, NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn granted more than 150 compliance milestone extensions at the Lab’s request, effectively eviscerating it.
A revised Consent Order was agreed in 2016, but was a big step backward in achieving comprehensive, genuine cleanup at the Lab. The revised CO was a giveaway by NMED to DOE and the Lab, negotiated to allow DOE’s budget to drive cleanup, not what is needed to permanently protect our water… (view/download the complete talking points)
May 21, 2017:
Lab Fire Highlights Ongoing LANL Waste Problems
“The incident highlighted, once again, a pattern of consistent mismanagement in the maintenance and cleanup of some of the most dangerous materials on Earth.
“This pattern of problems also has prompted the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to question whether the facility should continue to operate and handle increasing quantities of plutonium in coming years. On Friday, the board said it will hold a June 7 hearing in Santa Fe to question a number of experts about the lab’s ability to safely carry out future nuclear missions at PF-4 (the “plutonium building”)… The Department of Energy plans to increase manufacturing of plutonium pits at Los Alamos over the coming decades. Two test pits were built last year, and as many as 50 to 80 pits could be built each year by 2030, a significant ramp up in the presence and handling of highly radioactive plutonium.
“‘Fattening up our already bloated nuclear weapons stockpile is not going to improve our national security,’ said Jay Coghlan, the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, in a news release issued Friday. ‘New Mexicans desperately need better funded schools and health care, not expanded plutonium pit production that will cause more pollution and threaten our scarce water resources.'” (see report, Santa Fe New Mexican)
May 10, 2017:
Energy Secretary Perry Visits LANL, Promises Cleanup of Nuclear Wastes
from l.: Sec. Perry, Lab Dir. McMillan, PU Sciences’ Yarbrough
Albuquerque Journal report:
“Perry said the US can ‘No longer continue to kick the can down the road’ when it comes to cleaning up long-term radioactive and hazardous waste at the nation’s nuclear labs, and that he wants to send a clear message to Americans that ‘their families are not going to live in fear of a country that’s got waste scattered around places it doesn’t need to be….’ There are too many places where ‘the lives and health of our citizens are in jeopardy, because the federal government has failed to respond appropriately by removing this waste in a timely way…’ He wants to send a clear message to Americans that ‘their families are not going to live in fear of a country that’s got waste scattered around places it doesn’t need to be… I want to get things done. I’m a realist, and I realize we’re not going to clean it up overnight. We’re going to make progress.'” (source)
January 11, 2017
LANL operator earns $9.1M environmental management bonus
Los Alamos National Security received a $9.1 million bonus for reaching environmental management goals in its operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The bonus amounted to 90 percent of the maximum award of $10.1 million. (more)
View/download DOE Award Fee Determination (PDF)
January 5, 2017
NNSA Releases Los Alamos Lab Performance Evaluation Report
Nuclear Criticality Safety Issues Still Not Fully Resolved
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has publicly released its fiscal year 2016 Performance Evaluation Report (PER) for Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the for-profit contractor that runs the Los Alamos Lab. The Performance Evaluation Report is NNSA’s annual report card on contractor performance, and overall the agency awarded LANS $59 million in profit out of a possible $65 million. The grade was 85% for the incentive part of the award. In 2012 Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued NNSA to ensure that the Performance Evaluation Reports detailing taxpayers funds paid to nuclear weapons contractors are publicly available. In 2016 the NNSA decided to put the LANL management contract out for competitive bid, but granted LANS a contract extension until the end of September 2018.
Despite the passing grade that NNSA gave LANS, there is still ample reason for public concern. First, it bears repeating that in February 2014 a radioactive waste drum improperly prepared by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) burst underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing that multi-billion dollar facility (a limited restart of operations at WIPP may occur this month).
Less widely known is the fact that LANL’s main plutonium facility that produces WIPP wastes has only recently restarted operations after being shut down since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns… (more: read full press release)
NukeWatch gets Santa Fe Mayor’s Award For Environmental Protection
In addition to our work toward limiting and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, NukeWatch also works to protect Northern New Mexico aquifers from the radioactive wastes dumped over the last 70 years of atomic bomb production at Los Alamos Lab. Nukewatch was given the Santa Fe Mayor’s Sustainability Award in the category of Environment for that work in October. (more)
Left: Scott Kovac, Jay Coghlin, Mayor Javier Gonzales
Report: Los Alamos to end radioactive on-site waste disposal at Area G
“Amid concerns from regulators over hazardous waste and contamination, a new report says the Los Alamos National Laboratory will stop disposing low-level radioactive waste at its largest waste disposal area by October 2017. A recently released annual environmental report said the lab will end on-site radioactive waste disposal at the storage compound known as ‘Area G.’ the lab’s largest disposal area… (more at ABQ Journal)
For immediate release, September 21, 2016
New Mexican Politicians Should Not Be Misled-
Energy Dept. Misrepresents Cost and Scope of Los Alamos Cleanup
“…The DOE report is far from honest. It intentionally omits any mention of approximately 150,000 cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes just at Area G alone (LANL’s largest waste dump), an amount of wastes 30 times larger than DOE acknowledges in the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate. In reality, DOE and LANL plan to not clean up Area G, instead installing an “engineered cover” and leaving the wastes permanently buried. This will create a permanent nuclear waste dump above the regional groundwater aquifer, three miles uphill from the Rio Grande. Radioactive and toxic wastes are buried directly in the ground without liners, and migration of plutonium has been detected 200 feet below Area G’s surface…”
(read full press release PDF)
– Sept 21, Albuquerque Journal: Nuke Watch: Lab cleanup report understates costs, waste amounts at Los Alamos
For immediate release, July 28, 2016
LANL Estimate of $2.9 Billion for “Remaining” Cleanup Leaves Nuclear and Toxic Wastes Behind and Kills Needed Jobs
“Santa Fe, NM. The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that the cost of “Remaining Legacy Cleanup” of radioactive and toxic wastes from more than 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will cost $2.9 billion through fiscal year 2035, averaging $153 million per year.
“That cost estimate clearly assumes that the Lab’s major radioactive and toxic wastes dumps will not be cleaned up. Instead they will be “capped and covered,” leaving some 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G, its largest waste dump. Those wastes sit in unlined pits and trenches, 800 feet above groundwater and three miles uphill from the Rio Grande (plutonium contaminants have been detected 200 feet below Area G). During this same period of time the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with will cost ten times as much, even before expected funding increases for expanded production of plutonium bomb core “pits” and increasingly aggressive “Life Extension Programs” that give existing nuclear weapons new military capabilities…” (View/download full press release PDF)
For immediate release, July 19, 2016
Nuclear Watch NM Amends LANL Cleanup Lawsuit – Claims New Consent Order To Be Invalid
“Nuclear Watch New Mexico has amended its federal lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) that alleges twelve violations of a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Those violations could result in potential penalties of more than $300 million dollars that would go to the state, if only the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were to enforce them. Nuclear Watch now asks the court to declare the new 2016 Consent Order to be invalid because the requirement for the opportunity of a public hearing was not met.”
(view/download full press release PDF)
For immediate release, June 29, 2016:
NM Environment Dept. Finalizes Consent Order on Los Alamos Lab Cleanup; Surrenders Enforcement to Nuclear Weaponeers
“The new Consent Order is a giveaway to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. The new Order is also clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup. In contrast, the new Consent Order allows them to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up…”
(view/download full press release PDF)
Public comments on the proposed (revised) LANL Consent Order
On March 30, 2016, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) released for public comment its proposed 2016 Compliance Order on Consent (“Consent Order”) governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). If implemented, the revised Consent Order will almost certainly create serious barriers to achieving cleanup, especially given the Lab’s known opposition to full and complete cleanup. In addition, the proposed revised Consent Order limits public participation opportunities; undermines enforceability by the Environment Department; puts the Department of Energy (DOE) in the driver’s seat; and lacks a final milestone compliance date. The proposed 2016 Consent Order is potentially a giant step backwards if the goal is to achieve genuine, comprehensive cleanup at LANL.
Thanks to all of you that sent in your comments.
See comments submitted by the public (PDF)
See comment submitted by NukeWatch (PDF)
We await NMED’s response to all submitted comments.
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
March 18, Santa Fe:
Following protracted negotiations, threatened litigation, and claims of imminent and substantial endangerment, the New Mexican Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory contractor agreed to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. Its promise was fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy waste at Los Alamos. The 2005 Consent Order was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan, with investigations followed by cleanup and with hundreds of specific milestones. The intent was to convince DOE to increase funding for LANL cleanup by making a complete cleanup schedule subject to enforcement. The Consent Order had a “final compliance date” scheduled for December 6, 2015.
Nuclear waste at LANL’s Area G- click to enlarge
However, in 2012 NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of above-ground, “transuranic” nuclear bomb production wastes from LANL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. This put Consent Order cleanup on the back burner, and approximately 150 milestone extensions of the 2005 Consent Order were granted to LANL by NMED. Then, in February 2014, WIPP was shut down by the rupturing of a drum of this waste, improperly packaged at LANL. Now, dealing with the remaining “suspect” drums (packaged in the same manner) stored at LANL is a major priority, and the Consent Order cleanup remains on the back burner. (more)
See this series of reports on the Watchblog:
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Treat All Los Alamos Lab Radioactive Wastes Consistently
Stand Against The Rush To Re-Open An Unsafe WIPP
Action Alert – Release of Revised Los Alamos Cleanup Agreement
For immediate release, Jan 20, 2016:
NukeWatch Gives Notice of Intent to Sue Over Lack of Cleanup at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM. Today, Nuclear Watch New Mexico notified the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that it will file a lawsuit over their failure to meet cleanup milestones under a “Consent Order” governed by the New Mexico Environment Department. Formal notice is required before a lawsuit can actually be filed, which NukeWatch intends to do within 60 days or less. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce cleanup at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. We are putting the weaponeers on notice that they have to cleanup their radioactive and toxic mess first before making another one for a nuclear weapons stockpile that is already bloated far beyond what we need. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs.” (Read more- see full press release PDF)
(see Notice of Intent letter PDF)
Albuquerque Journal North: Nuclear Watch to sue over LANL cleanup problems
Santa Fe Reporter, Dec 8, 2015:
Los Alamos Cleanup Past Due
As last deadline passes in existing cleanup plan, state and feds stalled in drafting a new plan
– Elizabeth Miller, 12/8/15. Excerpt:
“Had the cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory gone as planned, this weekend would have marked the closure of a decade-long effort to remediate the effects of a 70-year legacy of making and maintaining nuclear bombs. Instead, the deadline stated in the 2005 consent order, an agreement between the US Department of Energy and the lab on how and when to clean up radioactive and toxic waste stored on site, often in unlined pits, trenches and shafts, and the contaminated buildings that housed lab operations, for the last major project, a cleanup of the largest waste dump site at the lab, came and went on Dec. 6. Instead, that milestone is still decades and millions of dollars away, and the state and federal government are beginning discussions to draft a new plan and schedule for it.
“‘It’s delay, delay, delay,’ says Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a watchdog group that took the occasion to sound the alarm on the practices and failures that they see bogging down cleanup at the lab. ‘Under the Martinez administration, the [New Mexico Environment Department] granted more than 150 extensions, which is the opposite of enforcement, and essentially eviscerated the consent order and we see declining levels of funding for cleanup at Los Alamos.’
“The concern is that the longer this cleanup is postponed, the more it will fade from memory, and the less people will think to argue for a cleanup that could bring jobs to the area now, and protect its groundwater for the long term.
“‘We hear that we can’t afford to do cleanup and at the same time the US government is ready to embark on a trillion dollar modernization of nuclear forces, so budget arguments against cleanup ring pretty hollow in our view,’ Coghlan says. ‘Go ask the public what they want, and ask northern New Mexicans what they want. They want cleanup over weapons.'”
(see full article)
Santa Fe New Mexican, Dec. 7, 2015:
LANL misses cleanup deadline set in 2005 for largest waste site
“Sunday’s deadline focused on Area G, LANL’s largest waste deposit site. A local watchdog group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said comprehensive cleanup for the site ‘is still decades away.’ In a statement released Monday, Nuclear Watch stressed the need for public participation in the revised cleanup order, including a public hearing, and condemned a plan proposed by LANL to ‘cap and cover’ waste in Area G. ‘Cleanup just keeps being delayed. If not corrected, cleanup simply won’t happen,’ said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch. ‘Nobody ever thought cleanup would be fully completed by the end of 2015; nobody is under any illusions about that.'” he added.
For immediate release December 7, 2015
Deadline for Last Cleanup Milestone of LANL Consent Order Passes;
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in Negotiations
Santa Fe, NM. Yesterday, December 6, was the deadline for the last compliance milestone in the Consent Order between the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Department of Energy (DOE) that governs cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Ironically, that last milestone required the submittal of a report by the Lab on how it successfully completed cleanup of Area G, its largest waste dump. But real comprehensive cleanup is decades away at current funding levels…” (view download PDF)
Santa Fe New Mexican, Nov. 18, 2015:
Consenting to Cleanup
New Mexico looks to leverage more funding amid discussions of new plan for LANL’s mess
“Progress on cleanup of material at the Los Alamos National Laboratory left over from manufacturing the world’s first nuclear weapons has been impeded by limited budgets, the discovery of new plumes of contamination and a guiding document that, according to the state, prioritized studying problems over fixing them.
With that document- the 2005 consent order agreed to by the US Department of Energy, LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department- riddled with unmet deadlines and unfulfilled goals and set to expire at the end of the year, the state is beginning discussions on a new approach aimed at producing more results…”
“Jay Coghlan said, ‘My biggest fear is that through this revised consent order, the NMED is basically giving up on being in the driver’s seat.’ Coghlan said annual planning should be in the state’s control, and pointed to ‘the Department of Energy’s presence on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list for 25 years as justifying the skepticism.'” (Read the full report by Elizabeth Miller)
Update, Nov 13: LANL Consent Order Revisions
At a meeting of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities on Nov 13, Doug Hintze, the new manager of the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management field office in Los Alamos, said priorities were safety, transparency and efficiency. “We have stuff in the ground that we all agree should be gotten rid of. What do we do and what time does it take in order to get rid of it? Whatever funding we get, we need to be good stewards.”
Nuclear Watch New Mexico said it will be “pushing for concrete milestones that are set from the beginning for all actions, for penalties when deadlines are not met, and for a new final end date. The revised Consent Order cannot be open-ended, and actual removal of the wastes (not cap and cover) is important.”
Nukewatch Calling For Full Public Participation in LANL Consent Order Review
- The 2005 Consent Order governing LANL cleanup is expiring in December- And little progress has been made.
- The New Mexico Environmental Department is in talks with DOE and LANL on revisions / renewal to the 10 year-old agreement.
- Nukewatch is calling for a full public comment period on changes to the 10 year-old order.
Excerpts and paraphrasings from Mark Oswald’s “Consent Order on Los Alamos Lab Clean-up Facing Changes”, October 9, 2015, Albuquerque Journal:
The 2005 consent order was LANL’s agreement for “fence-to-fence” cleanup of Cold War-era legacy waste by December 2015. That hasn’t happened, and all the agencies and parties involved have known for years the 2015 goals wouldn’t be met.
Now, as milestones for progress established under the 10-year-old consent order are set to run out in December, the New Mexico Environment Department is working on a revised agreement with the federal Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory over the huge undertaking of cleanup of decades of hazardous waste at the lab.
New Mexico Environment Department officials say what they want is a more “performance-oriented” document that will generate actual cleanup or remediation of radioactive and other kinds of waste rather than focusing on preparatory work that only sets the stage.
(There has been cleanup work, notably demolition and other improvements at the lab’s Technical Area 21- but LANL’s Area G waste dump still contains an estimated 80 percent of the lab’s buried waste. According to the 2005 consent order, the lab’s final “milestone” was supposed to be a “remedy completion report,” due on Dec. 6, on how Area G had been cleaned up. Nothing has yet been done. See our Area G file )
Nukewatch supports NMED’s determination to get on with actual cleanup and remediation, but is calling for a full period of public comment on a revised agreement- so that, for example, alternatives to the lab’s proposed ‘cap and cover’ remedy are fully explored prior to fixing cleanup modalities.
Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of NukeWatch, said the rigorous public participation rules “get to disagreements before there is a done deal.” Nuke Watch wants to assure that the public has “a role in defining a matter of public interest- cleanup at Los Alamos to protect our water supply… Can we be confident that the environment department is going to meet the genuine expectations of the public and that the lab will thoroughly be cleaned up? The answer to that is no.”
In a formal statement, NMED said, “We’ve received Nuclear Watch’s letter indicating that they believe that the revision of the CO agreement should be treated as a permit renewal instead, with public involvement to include full, year-long adjudicative hearings, and we are taking that point of view into consideration because we agree that active public involvement improves outcomes.”
(There’s a lot to this story- read more: “Consent order on Los Alamos lab clean-up facing changes”, Mark Oswald, Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 9, 2015)
September 21, 2015:
NukeWatch letter to NM Environment Dept. Secretary Flynn arguing for a legally required public hearing for the new Consent Order
Note: Flynn never responded and the Environment Dept. finalized the Consent Order with Los Alamos Lab without a public hearing. NukeWatch is suing the Lab for violations of the old Order. View/download letter (PDF)
Nuclear Watch New Mexico Press Release June 27, 2014:
Missed WIPP Deadline May Put Real Cleanup at LANL Back On Track
“After granting more than one hundred extension requests to delay cleanup, we salute the New Mexico Environment Department for denying further requests. We encourage NMED to enforce what it already has, and make LANL comply with its legally mandated cleanup order. This in turn will drive increased federal funding for genuine cleanup at the Lab, creating hundreds of jobs while permanently protecting our precious water and environment.” (View/download the 6/27 press release)
NukeWatch Presentation to Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board on LANL’s Area G, February 12, 2014
Scott Kovac, Director of Operations for NukeWatch, gave a talk at the public meeting of the Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board on the problem of LANL’s Area G, February 12th, 2014. View the slide presentation
The Santa Fe City Council Has Unanimously Approved Resolution Asking LANL to Examine Alternatives to Planned “Cap and Cover” of Radioactive Wastes
Listen to Mayor David Coss and Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch discussing the resolution on the Mayor’s radio show, Dec 12: (podcast: Jay comes on at 40:20)
View/download the final resolution: (.doc) (.pdf)
We’re informed by Taos Town Councillor Andrew Gonzales that the Taos Town Council passed a similar resolution Dec 10.
View/download the Taos Town Council Resolution
Taos County Board of Commissioners has passed a similar resolution.
View/download the Taos County Resolution
Santa Fe, Nov. 8. Mayor David Coss, in his role as Chairman of the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Communities, presented a draft City of Santa Fe resolution at their monthly meeting Nov. 7, calling for LANL’s consideration of other alternatives to their proposed Technical Area (TA)-54, Area G, remedial action plan… The draft resolution urges LANL to execute full characterization and excavation of the wastes as well as offsite disposal of any high-level or transuranic radioactive waste and the reburial of remaining low level radioactive wastes in a modern landfill designed to control and prevent the migration of these wastes into groundwater aquifers and the Rio Grande. “Full cleanup of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our precious groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of high paying jobs for twenty years or more,” said Mayor David Coss. Mayor Coss will ask the City of Santa Fe Council for approval of this resolution at their December 11th meeting, which is open to the public.
View/download Santa Fe Mayor’s press release (PDF)
From the Nuclear Watch press release on the resolution:
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit paying games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long- term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.” View/download the Nuclear Watch press release (PDF)
In letters to state representatives Udall and Egolf, Santa Fe Mayoral Candidate Javier Gonzales endorsed the City Council resolution, and called for state legislative hearings on dealing with hazardous waste at LANL’s Area G. View letters (PDFs): To Rep. Udall, to Rep. Egolf.
ABQJournal story on passage of resolution: “Resolution Urges Removal of LANL Waste”.
Santa Fe New Mexican: “Coss pushes for LANL’s nuclear waste cleanup”
Los Alamos Monitor: “Coss’ LANL resolution gets mixed reaction- Lab Officials say they evaluated all alternatives”
Los Alamos Comments on Area G Nuclear Waste Site
Nov.11, Troy Wilde, Public News Service-NM:
In a written statement, LANL said: “Under the Consent Order, the final remedy at Area G will be decided by the state of New Mexico after receiving input from the public. As that process continues, our sampling and monitoring to date- the results of which are all public- have shown that the buried material is safe where it is, now and for the foreseeable future.”
Scott Kovac, director of research and operations with New Mexico Nuclear Watch, says some of the contaminants from Los Alamos have already reached the aquifer. Kovac adds the amount of radioactive nuclear waste in Area G is about the size of the Empire State Building. LANL says removing the nuclear waste would cost upwards of $30 billion and take 30 years to complete. However, Kovac says his organization believes it can be done for much less. “We estimate that the lab could excavate the waste, sort it out- recycle- ship it to different waste sites for around six billion dollars,” he says. (See “Cost Comparison Debunks LANL’s Outrageous Cleanup Estimate”, right column.) (ref)
Extracts From the Area G Corrective Measures Evaluation Report
The Corrective Measures Evaluation Report for Material Disposal Area G, Consolidated Unit 54-013(b)-99, at Technical Area 54, Revision 3 was released in September 2011. It’s document numbers are ERID-206324, LA-UR-11-4910, and EP2011-0284. This is the document where LANL states its preference to leave the one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous waste buried in place at the Lab at Area G.
The full document is available at LANL’s Electronic Reading Room site (download doc)
WARNING It is 153MB! (If you have trouble downloading the full document from the LANL site, which is often the case, please get in touch with us at [email protected]
To help make things a bit more accessible and manageable, NukeWatch is providing outtakes from the Area G Corrective Measures Evaluation Report:
– Inventories of the pits and shafts. (PDF 244kb)
This outtake lists the Area G Subsurface Disposal Unit Information for the Pits and the Shafts. It’s a good history of what is known about the wastes, and lists the dimensions of the pits and shafts, giving a good picture of the size of the problem.
– Total Excavated and Inventories of the Pits (PDF 139kb)
– Geologic Cross sections from under Area G. (PDF 7.4mb)
This gives the locations of regional and intermediate wells in the vicinity of Area G and the lines of section for geologic cross-sections of the complex ground under Area G. Of particular interest is cross-section A-A’ (Figure E-2.1-2), that shows an unknown vertical feature discovered when Well R-22 was drilled. Check out the vertical red feature with the question mark that intersects R-22. This gives an idea of how complicated the geology and how many questions that are still unanswered.
– The breakout of the $29 billion estimate to remove the waste. (PDF 66kb)
This includes $9.7 billion in “Contingency” and $7 billion in “Professional Management”
Plutonium found at 240′ below surface at Area G–
Moving toward aquifer
Map: Radionuclides (pCi/g) detected above background values in subsurface tuff at MDA G click to open-
Let us know if you have any questions or find anything in particular of interest.
This is the list of extensions to requirements of the Consent Order requested by LANL and approved or denied by the NM Environment Department.
The agreement of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to address the highest risk above-ground transuranic waste currently in Technical Area 54 at LANL.
Nuclear weapons production and testing have involved extensive health and environmental damage. A remarkable feature of this has been the readiness of governments to harm the very people they claimed to be protecting in building these weapons. Secrecy, fabrication of data, cover-ups in the face of attempted public inquiry… have all occurred in nuclear weapons production and testing programs
-Arjun Makhijani, President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.