Los Alamos National Lab Cleanup

Updates

Los Alamos Lab: More Plutonium, More Nuclear Weapons

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.

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Feds agree to LANL waste cleanup and repairs to settle lawsuit

Federal officials would agree only to study the possibility of clearing out waste from the Area G pit and wouldn’t commit to following through, said Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch’s executive director.

“Ideally, the transuranic nuclear waste would go to WIPP, and the low-level radioactive materials would be buried in a landfill with liners and a leachate collection system. Capping and covering the on-site pit is problematic because it’s unlined and could allow toxins to leach into the groundwater,”

 | March 23, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

Los Alamos National Laboratory will do extensive waste cleanup and fix a long-broken monitoring system for polluted runoff to comply with a settlement of a watchdog’s lawsuit.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Watch New Mexico agreed to a settlement in federal court last week to end six years of litigation for what the watchdog group characterized as neglect of longtime issues.

“It’s now a legal obligation on the part of DOE,” said Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch’s executive director. “I do expect DOE will be cooperative in this.”

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Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety: “Nuclear Watch New Mexico Settlement Moves Cleanup at LANL Forward”

This week Nuclear Watch New Mexico announced the successful settlement of its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) about its slow cleanup of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  After a six-year court battle, the settlement requires DOE to re-establish a monitoring station on the Rio Grande in order to protect the Buckman Direct Diversion Project, which provides about 40 percent of the drinking water for Santa Fe residents.  The monitoring station was destroyed in 2013 during a major flood event.  https://bddproject.org/  

The settlement also includes the cleanup of 158 corrugated metal culverts containing cemented radioactive liquid waste buried at the Area G dump; a feasibility study for the excavation of a waste pit, also at Area G; and the investigation, characterization and, if necessary, clean up of 290 specific dumps scattered across the LANL site.

To read the press release with a link to the Settlement Agreement:

NukeWatch Lawsuit Settlement Speeds Up Cleanup at Los Alamos Lab

NukeWatch Lawsuit Settlement Speeds Up Cleanup at Los Alamos Lab

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Nuclear Watch New Mexico is announcing successful settlement of a lawsuit it brought against the Department of Energy (DOE) over its slow cleanup of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The watchdogs’ lawsuit alleged violations of a 2005 Consent Order, which was a site-wide cleanup agreement between the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and DOE to address radioactive and toxic wastes at the Lab. NMED has since sued DOE to terminate a revised 2016 Consent Order issued under the Martinez Administration that is far weaker than the original 2005 Order.

After a six-year court battle, NukeWatch’s settlement agreement requires DOE to:

  1. Reestablish a surface water flow monitoring station near where the Los Alamos Canyon meets the Rio Grande. This is critical because the Canyon has long been a known pathway for plutonium contaminants to migrate as far as 20 miles south to Cochiti Lake, a popular recreational area. The Buckman Direct Diversion Project (BDDP), three miles south of the Canyon, supplies drinking water directly out of the river to the City and County of Santa Fe. The original monitoring station warned the BDDP to close its intake gates as a precaution during stormwater events and allowed characterization of the radioactive contaminants in the stormwater flows.” However, it was destroyed during a 2013 flood and DOE had refused to reinstall it ever since, despite repeated BDDP requests. Meanwhile, during that same period of time, funding doubled for LANL’s nuclear weapons research and production programs that caused the radioactive and toxic pollution to begin with.

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Two more radioactive releases reported at LANL

A lab critic said he’s concerned about flaws in worker training, equipment and inspections contributing to glove box breaches as LANL gears up for producing plutonium pits for warhead triggers.

“As things ramp up, we’re bound to have more problems,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

 | March 8, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

Los Alamos National Laboratory had two additional breaches of a sealed radioactive-material compartment known as a glove box in January, bringing the total to three in one month, according to a government watchdog.

One employee damaged a glove attached to a sealed compartment while manually moving material with a disabled trolley through the enclosed space, causing enough of a release to contaminate the person’s face.

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Expanded Plutonium “Pit” Bomb Production Rules Over Genuine Cleanup Los Alamos Lab Plans to Make Existing Nuclear Waste Dumps Permanent Without Eliminating Threat to Groundwater

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.

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Following New Mexico Environment Department Lawsuit DOE Dramatically Increases Funding for Los Alamos Lab Cleanup

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).

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Rep. Chris Chandler and NMED Sec. James Kenney Unhappy With Progress Of Waste Shipment From LANL

“The poor performance at LANL I think is exactly why we sued the Department of Energy because we believe the DOE and contractor are in violation of the Consent Order, we need to correct that and from a policy perspective, the Department of Energy has prioritized over New Mexico, cleanup at Savannah River, cleanup at Idaho National Labs, cleanup at all these other places and that is unacceptable to the state of New Mexico since we are the only state that holds the geologic repository known as WIPP,” – New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney

BY MAIRE O’NEILL maire@losalamosreporter.com | The Los Alamos Reporter June 8, 2021

District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Monday both criticized the Department of Energy’s lack of progress in shipping waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad. Their comments were made during the Legislative Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee meeting. Chandler is the vice chair of that committee.

Eletha Trujillo, Bureau Chief of the Hazardous Waste Planning Division at the state Energy, Minerals and National Resources Department, earlier in the meeting noted that there are two groups from LANL that ship waste – the DOE Environmental Management group and the DOE National Security Administration group.

“The DOE NNSA group had some safety violations back in February – the spark incident that occurred with a barrel at Los Alamos and so they have not been able to do any shipments. They do have material, but they’re not able to ship anything because they’re under a safety hold by the NRC. When they complete their plan and they get approval again from the NRC then the NNSA will be able to ship again. We don’t know when that’s going to happen. Typically the NNSA tends to have more safety violations than Environmental Management,” Trujillo said.

She added that EM has shipped their material and does not have enough material for a full load.

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New Mexico demands more of US when addressing nuclear waste

“Some elected officials and watchdog groups say the list is another indication that New Mexico is on the back burner when it comes to cleaning up legacy waste. They’re also raising concerns that new waste generated by Los Alamos when it ramps up production of key nuclear warhead components will need to be cleaned up and could further sideline decontamination efforts.”

krqe.com March 15th, 2021

FILE – In this April 2019, file photo, provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory, barrels of radioactive waste are loaded for transport to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at the Radioactive Assay Nondestructive Testing (RANT) facility in Los Alamos, N.M. New Mexico is going after the federal government for failing to make progress on cleaning up contamination left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research at one of the nation’s premier nuclear labs. In a civil complaint filed in federal court, the state says the plan by the U.S. Energy Department lacks substantive and appropriate targets for dealing with waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Nestor Trujillo/Los Alamos National Laboratory via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The U.S. Energy Department has rolled out its 2021 priorities for cleaning up tons of toxic waste left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research at scientific installations and defense sites around the country.

The list includes a goal of sending 30 shipments from the birthplace of the atomic bomb — Los Alamos National Laboratory — to the federal government’s underground waste repository in southern New Mexico.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Summary: The State of New Mexico should again demonstrate the political will it successfully displayed in 2005 when it compelled the federal Department of Energy to agree to an enforceable Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the Lab’s request the Martinez Administration eviscerated that Consent Order with more than 150 milestone extensions. Further, in a process riddled with conflicts of interest, it negotiated a revised 2016 Consent Order that subordinated cleanup to the budget that DOE wants. The need to protect New Mexico’s environment and precious water resources should drive the Lab’s cleanup budget, not DOE’s planned budget of expanded nuclear weapons research and production. The incoming Biden Administration could offer new opportunity to renegotiate a Consent Order that is in the Land of Enchantment’s best interests. The present New Mexico State Administration should pursue that opportunity.

Why renegotiate the 2016 Consent Order?
• In June 2016 the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (then the Lab’s contractor) signed a revised Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The new Consent Order was an unfortunate step backwards in compelling comprehensive, genuine cleanup at the Lab.
• The State of New Mexico should have kept the original, enforceable 2005 Consent Order that it fought so hard for under the Richardson Administration (including successfully defending itself against DOE lawsuits), modified as needed for cleanup schedules and a final compliance date.
• Under Gov. Martinez, the revised 2016 Consent Order was a giveaway by NMED to DOE and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. As documented below, it is clearly the reverse of the 2005 Consent Order, whose underlying goal was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup.
• The inevitable outcome is slow cleanup with no plans for comprehensive cleanup. DOE proposed a 46% cut to LANL cleanup funding in FY 2021. In contrast, funding for LANL’s nuclear weapons research and production programs that caused the need for cleanup to begin with has doubled over the last decade. The planned expansion of those programs will result in more contamination and radioactive and hazardous wastes.
• The incoming Biden Administration could possibly offer better opportunity for renegotiating a Consent Order with DOE that is in New Mexico’s best interests.

Resources

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Project 2020

PLUTONIUM-239 AND CHROMIUM-6 CONTAMINATION AT LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY

Analyzing contaminant migration and assessing remediation

The goal of this project is to raise questions regarding the problem of groundwater contamination migration at Los Alamos National Laboratory to guide discussion of remediation approaches on the property.

Notable Documents

DOE Office of Environmental Management February Bulletin: “Angled Well Drilling Protects Groundwater, Ancient Cultural Sites at Los Alamos”

DOE Office of Environmental Management

While drilling a borehole for a groundwater monitoring well, EM crews check the angle of the drill rod to ensure accurate intersection with the desired sampling locations. Known as R-71, the well will support further characterization of a contaminant plume in groundwater beneath Los Alamos National Laboratory.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – EM crews have successfully completed a complex project that protects cultural and ecological resources throughout the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) site while enabling more thorough monitoring and characterization of a contaminant plume in groundwater.

Crews with Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B), the EM Los Alamos Field Office’s cleanup contractor, implemented angled drilling for a new monitoring well, a method that safeguards critical water resources and ensures preservation of pueblos’ nearby cultural sites.

The new well, named R-71, is located on the northwestern boundary of a hexavalent chromium plume in Mortandad Canyon.

Hexavalent chromium was flushed into Sandia Canyon between 1956 and 1972, when LANL personnel used the contaminant as a corrosion inhibitor in the cooling towers of its non-nuclear power plant. During that timeframe, chromium was used industry-wide for such purposes.

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DOE 2018 Claim LANL Cleanup 1/2 Complete

Archived Resources

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)
http://permalink.lanl.gov/object/tr?what=info:lanl-repo/eprr/ERID-206324
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 info@nukewatch.org

To help make things a bit more accessible and manageable, NukeWatch is providing outtakes from the Area G Corrective Measures Evaluation Report:
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2016 Revised Consent Order

This revised Consent Order will create serious barriers to achieving cleanup, 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 2016 Consent Order is potentially a giant step backward in achieving genuine, comprehensive cleanup at LANL.

2005 Consent Order

The 2005 consent order was LANL’s agreement for “fence-to-fence” cleanup of Cold War-era legacy waste by December 2015. Issued pursuant to the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, the Consent Order set the requirements for a comprehensive investigation of environmental contamination and provides for the identification of cleanup alternatives and the implementation of cleanup measures. (NMED, DOE, UC Regents)