“There’s enough high-level nuclear waste awaiting disposal in the U.S. to fill a football field 65 feet (20 meters) deep. Few states want to house it within their borders.”
“The public defines ‘safe’ as zero risk…the technical community defines ‘safe’ as complying with regulatory standards.” – Robert Halstead, head of the Agency for Nuclear Projects, is currently fighting plutonium shipments to Nevada and spent nuclear fuel transfers to the proposed Yucca Mountain dump.
The plutonium core for the first atomic weapon detonated in 1945 was taken from Los Alamos National Laboratory to a test site in the New Mexico desert in the backseat of a U.S. Army sedan.
Officials put other bomb parts inside a metal container, packed it into a wooden crate and secured it in the steel bed of a truck under a tarp, the U.S. Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration says in a historical account.
Grainy black-and-white photos show special agents and armed military police accompanying the shipment nearly 75 years ago.
“Nuclear materials transportation has evolved since then,” the department posted online last year.
Today, radioactive shipments are hauled in double-walled steel containers inside specialized trailers that undergo extensive testing and are tracked by GPS and real-time apps.
But whether shipping technology has evolved enough to be deemed safe depends on whom you ask.
A ‘dirty, dirty process’
Los Alamos has a starring role in a shift to U.S. nuclear policy that’s two presidential terms in the making. Nuclear watchdog groups in the state are concerned about the United States’ evolving nuclear agenda, which will see a sharp increase in plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
LANL recently released its $13 billion expansion proposal to accommodate increased pit production at the site. The expansion is part of a wider push across the country to ramp up the nuclear warhead manufacturing machine, according to Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.
Plutonium pits are central to nuclear weaponry. They are the “radioactive cores of modern nuclear weapons,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. He added that the pits themselves are weapons. “It was essentially a plutonium pit that destroyed Nagasaki on August 9, 1945,”
The ramp-up is years in the making, as successive presidential administrations have struggled to address how to modernize the U.S. nuclear stockpile. But nuclear watchdog groups worry an increase in pit production at LANL would have negative repercussions for the region. While LANL has touted the proposed economic benefits of its proposal for the area, activists argue the dangers outweigh the benefits.
Los Alamos Labs hit with $222,313 fine for safety violations. Meanwhile, clean-up of legacy sites may permanently seal waste in the ground.
Even as Los Alamos National Labs takes on contracts for new weapons manufacturing, taxpayers are still shelling out for the clean-up costs of contamination dating back to atomic bomb testing. The latest clean-up proposals will likely leave hazardous waste in the ground. Meanwhile, recent hazardous waste safety violations add up to $222,313.
N3B, the company recently contracted by the US Department of Energy to complete a significant portion of remaining clean-up efforts, gave a presentation to the public at the Santa Fe Community College on Thursday as part of a series of community meetings leading up to the process to decide methods for cleaning up several contaminated legacy waste sites around LANL.
…The DOE reported that 1,168 of 2,123 contaminated sites have been cleaned and 10,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste removed, leaving 5,000 cubic meters of waste remaining identified for clean-up. Yet, according to watchdog group Nuke Watch New Mexico, that leaves 690,251 cubic meters of waste permanently buried on-sight in unlined pits and shafts above a regional aquifer that provides drinking water for San Ildefonso Pueblo, Española, Los Alamos and Santa Fe, among other communities. Nuke Watch Executive Director Jay Coghlan tells SFR this number is from analysis of publicly available LANL documents and data.
South Carolina could be stuck with a massive stockpile of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear material for decades, despite a federal mandate and years of promises that the state wouldn’t become America’s plutonium dumping ground.
A restricted internal report obtained by the Aiken Standard and The Post and Courier suggests that the state is likely to become a long-term repository for enough plutonium to build the bomb dropped on Nagasaki nearly 2,000 times over.
South Carolina faces this prospect despite a federal law that gives the U.S. Department of Energy just 2½ more years to remove its plutonium from the Savannah River Site, a huge swath of federal land along the Georgia border.
The message was clear at Wednesday evening’s Environmental Management Cleanup Forum at Fuller Lodge hosted by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office and legacy cleanup contractor N3B. That message, according to EM-LA manager Doug Hintze was that the Department of Energy is changing its way of doing business as far as community participation.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch NM Director, said about the meeting: “They had too much of an opportunity to control the questions through written submissions and pick and choose what they want. Future meetings should be quite different with open and free discussion,” he said. “I’m fully-prepared to push for the transparency that they claim that they’re operating with.”
“We’re not asking for input – you’ve been giving us input. We’re asking for participation to make sure you understand the risks that we have, the challenges including funding, the cleanup standards and so forth. We’re asking for your participation,” he told a packed room.
Coghlan told the Los Alamos Reporter that EM-LA “have repeated rhetoric for full and complete transparency.
“They’re making the claim that more than half the cleanup is completed. This of course is representative of hidden decisions already made to leave behind the vast majority of waste. So this meeting was just a complete sham and it was carefully controlled really, to make it all look warm and fuzzy when it’s not,” he said.
Over the last decade funding for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) nuclear weapons programs has increased 20%. However, funding for needed cleanup has remained flat at one-tenth of the almost $2 billion requested for nuclear weapons programs in FY 2020. Nuclear weapons funding is slated to keep climbing under the $1.7 trillion 30-year nuclear weapons “modernization” program begun under Obama. Trump is adding yet more money, and is accelerating the new arms race with Russia by adding two new types of nuclear weapons. Cleanup funding, on the other hand, is doomed to stay flat for the next two decades because the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) under Gov. Martinez gutted a 2005 “Consent Order” that would have forced the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL to get more money for cleanup.
The Road to Genuine Los Alamos Lab Cleanup
Funding for nuclear weapons is still the priority at the Lab
- $1.7 trillion 30-year “modernization” program total current estimate across the nation
- LANL receives $2 billion annually for nuclear weapons work
Legacy Cleanup Program at LANL is getting started with new contractor
- Current cleanup estimate is $4.1 billion remaining to finish by 2036
- LANL cleanup has been receiving $195 to $220 million per year
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
3/13 PODCAST: Nuke Watch Director Jay Coghlan on the Lawsuit Against LANL
LISTEN ON SANTAFE.COM
Documents & Resources
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
To help make things a bit more accessible and manageable, NukeWatch is providing outtakes from the Area G Corrective Measures Evaluation Report:
Nuclear fallout: $15.5 billion in compensation and counting
They built our atomic bombs; now they’re dying of cancer
By Jamie Grey and Lee Zurik | November 12, 2018 at 1:00 PM EST – Updated November 12 at 10:54 AM
LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO (InvestigateTV) – Clear, plastic water bottles, with the caps all slightly twisted open, fill a small refrigerator under Gilbert Mondragon’s kitchen counter. The lids all loosened by his 4- and 6-year old daughters because, at just 38, Mondragon suffers from limited mobility and strength. He blames his conditions on years of exposure to chemicals and radiation at the facility that produced the world’s first atomic bomb: Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Gilbert Mondragon, 38, pulls the cap off a plastic water bottle that had been twisted open by his young daughters. He hasn’t the strength for those simple tasks anymore and blames his 20-year career at the Los Alamos National Lab. He quit this year because of his serious lung issues, which he suspects were caused by exposures at the nuclear facility.
Mondragon is hardly alone in his thinking; there are thousands more nuclear weapons workers who are sick or dead. The government too recognizes that workers have been harmed; the Department of Labor administers programs to compensate “the men and women who sacrificed so much for our country’s national security.”
But InvestigateTV found workers with medical issues struggling to get compensated from a program that has ballooned ten times original cost estimates. More than 6,000 workers from Los Alamos alone have filed to get money for their medical problems, with around 53 percent of claims approved.
This is the list of extensions to requirements of the Consent Order requested by LANL and approved or denied by the NM Environment Department.