Los Alamos National Lab Cleanup

Plutonium Sampling at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Source/Reference Documents

Letter on LANL’s detection methodologies by chemist Dr. Michael Ketterer

Map Spreadsheet Examples 2021-2023

Below are examples of a spreadsheets created in Intellus, which is the environmental database at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The requests were for all soil and groundwater samples taken in, under, and around the Lab  in 2021, 2022, and 2023. The spreadsheets were then sorted by “Report Result” (Column ‘F’), which lists the plutonium found in samples in descending order. It shows the highest sample for each year at top of the column.

Looking at the 2021 spreadsheet, there were 2043 samples analyzed for plutonium taken in 2021. There are approximately 100 detects including the high sample of 10100 pCi/g. Please read Dr. Ketterer’s report for a discussion of the ‘detects’ and ‘non-detects.’

Notice the latitude and longitude for each sample (columns ‘O’ and ‘P’). We used these coordinates to create the maps.


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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 18, 2023
Jay Coghlan – 505.989.7342, c 505.470.3154 | Email
Scott Kovac – c. 505.316.4148 | Email

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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Los Alamos Reporter – Triad Hit By DOE With Preliminary Notice Of Violation For 5 Nuclear Safety Issues At Plutonium Facility PF4 In 2021

“Under Work Processes, the document says contrary to the requirements, Triad failed to perform work consistent with the approved instructions, procedures or other appropriate needs.”

BY MAIRE O’NEILL, LOS ALAMOS REPORTER | May 31, 2023 losalamosreporter.com

Plutonium Facility PF4 at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo Courtesy LANL

Jill Hruby, the Department of Energy Undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration has issued a preliminary notice of violation (PNOV) to Triad National Security, LLC citing five Severity Level II violations linked to four nuclear safety events between February and July 2021 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Plutonium Facility PF4.

A DOE investigation into the facts and circumstances associated with the four events alleges multiple violations of DOE nuclear safety requirements by Triad National Security, LLC, the management and operations contractor for LANL. The events were summarized as follows:

On February 11, 2021, fissionable materials placed in an area contrary to the criticality safety posting exceeded criticality safety mass-control requirements.

On March 3, 2021, a glove breach released radioactive contamination resulting in skin contamination of three workers.

On March 31, 2021, an over-filled water bath resulted in flooding of a vault containing fissionable materials.

Lastly, on July 19, 2021, a water tank for the wet vacuum system in LANL’s PF4 overflowed into the negative pressure chilled cooling water (NPCCW) tank, which then flowed into the glovebox ventilation system that supplies multiple rooms and gloveboxes containing fissionable materials.

LANL plume cleanup halted due to water concerns

Milestones to meet in the coming year are to work on three monitoring wells and complete two reports, said Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s operations director. He called the effort inadequate for a large contaminated area discovered two decades ago.

“We’re going to have to do better than that,” Kovac said after the meeting. “We should be a lot farther along by now.”

Kovac also questioned why the report on the lab’s site-wide groundwater monitoring should be deemed a milestone. It’s something that must be done every year, so the lab’s parent agency shouldn’t get points for it, he said.

SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN | March 31, 2023 santafenewmexican.com

State regulators’ order to halt injections of treated water into the sprawling chromium plume under Los Alamos National Laboratory will go into effect Saturday as scheduled, federal and state officials confirmed this week at an annual meeting to review cleanup of legacy waste.

Regulators say the technique of extracting contaminated water, treating it and pumping it back into the decades-old plume is not fixing or containing the problem but instead is stirring up the hexavalent chromium and pushing it both toward San Ildefonso Pueblo and deeper into the aquifer.

The U.S. Energy Department’s environmental managers at Los Alamos insist the pump-and-treat method is working to dilute the toxic chromium and prevent its spread but said at a Wednesday meeting they would cease injections on Friday.

“Right now, we don’t have another avenue for any of that extracted water, so it will effectively be turning off the system for the interim measure for the chromium plume treatment,” said Troy Thomson, environmental remediation program manager for N3B, the lab’s legacy waste cleanup contractor.

A state Environment Department manager reiterated the agency’s position that the injection wells were placed inside the plume rather than on the borders, causing the injected water to spread the contaminants outward.

Fallout from a nuclear past: A new book explores the human toll of “nuclear colonization” in New Mexico

Of the three waves of colonization New Mexico has undergone — Spanish, American and nuclear — the latter is the least explored. And for author Myrriah Gómez, there were personal reasons to reveal the truth about how “nuclear colonization” has altered the state’s past and continues to shape its future.

By Alicia Inez Guzmán Searchlight New Mexico | December 2022 searchlightnm.org

Gómez, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, is the author of  “Nuclear Nuevo México,” a book that explores the history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the fundamental tension of living in its shadow. Its publication this month by the University of Arizona Press couldn’t be timelier: Los Alamos is currently preparing to build plutonium “pits” that act as triggers in nuclear weapons, putting the lab front and center in an ongoing national debate about nuclear impacts.

“If Spanish colonialism brought Spanish colonizers and U.S. colonialism brought American colonizers,” as Gómez writes in her book, “then nuclear colonialism brought nuclear colonizers, scientists, military personnel, atomic bomb testing, and nuclear waste among them.”

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Nuclear waste permit ‘more stringent’ New Mexico says as feds look to renew for 10 years

NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the State wanted a permit with stronger regulations moving forward, to better protect people and the environment from the impacts of nuclear waste disposal.

“It will be more stringent, full stop,” Kenney said. “The conditions were adding to it are designed to add more accountability to the whole complex that are sending waste to WIPP.”

By Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus | December 10, 2022 currentargus.com

Tougher rules for a nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad could be on the way as New Mexico officials sought “more stringent” regulations as the federal government sought to renew its permit with the state for the facility.

The State sought new requirements to prioritize nuclear waste from within New Mexico for disposal, called for an accounting of all of the waste planned for disposal in the next decade and regular updates on federal efforts to find the location for a new repository as conditions of the permit.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy which holds a permit with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that must be updated every 10 years.

The facility sees transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste from DOE facilities around the country disposed of via burial in an underground salt formation about 2,000 feet beneath the surface.

Watchdog agency grills LANL, nuclear officials on lab safety

[NukeWatch would amend this headline to add “‘lightly’ grills” – The DNFSB was asking tough questions, but DOE and the LANL contractors were not forthcoming with those answers.]

“Much of the discussion involved complex, technical subjects. But board Chairwoman Joyce Connery said a basic complaint is the lack of response the board has gotten at times when raising concerns in letters sent to the lab and nuclear security agency.”

THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN | November 16, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

DNFSB Watchdog agency grills LANL, nuclear officials on lab safety

A federal watchdog agency on Wednesday grilled top officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the agency that oversees nuclear weapons about ongoing safety concerns and how they aim to resolve them as the lab gears up to produce an unprecedented number of warhead triggers.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent organization within the executive branch, questioned lab Director Thom Mason and National Nuclear Security Administration head Jill Hruby about safety issues that could prove important as the lab moves toward making 30 bomb cores, known as pits, per year by 2026.

The board provides recommendations and advice to the president and the secretary of energy regarding public health and safety issues at Department of Energy defense nuclear facilities.

The daylong hearing was held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. It is the first time in several years the safety board has held a public hearing in the Santa Fe area.
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Environment Department Unhappy With Pace Of DOE Characterization, Cleanup Of LANL Chromium Plume

“’We felt that the cleanup was not moving as quickly as it should be moving and then we entered into litigation with DOE. It was moved from state court to federal court. The current LANL cleanup end date for DOE is 2036, which is in the Consent Order, and we don’t feel that they’re going to be able to make that timeline based on the progress they’re making at this time,’ Catechis said.”

BY MAIRE O’NEILL | July 27, 2022 losalamosreporter.com

New Mexico Environment Department Resource Protection Division Director Chris Catechis is not mincing his words when he discusses NMED’s position on the hexavalent chromium plume discovered in 2005 which is part of the legacy waste clean-up mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

At a recent meeting of the Legislative Interim Committee on Radioactive & Hazardous Waste, both Catechis and Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos raised concerns that Department of Energy Environmental Management program at LANL is not taking an aggressive enough approach to characterization of the chromium plume.

Catechis explained the 2016 Consent Order between DOE and NMED dealing with legacy waste from LANL left since the Manhattan Project era. The 2016 Consent Order, which is an update from the original 2005 Consent Order, NMED and DOE officials meet each year to set up a series of milestones, campaigns and targets for the coming federal fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Catechis said an example of those is the Chromium Interim Measure that deals with the characterization of the chromium plume.

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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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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.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute Project 2020


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

Scoping Comments to the National Nuclear Security Administration On the Los Alamos National Laboratory Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement

A Reduced Operations Alternative is not only a reasonable alternative but is in the actual best interests of the nation.

Such an alternative would best preserve stockpile reliability by foregoing production of new pits that may deviate from tested designs; conservatively maintain the existing, extensively tested nuclear weapons stockpile; augment and accentuate nonproliferation programs, especially the development of monitoring and verification technologies that could help underpin a future world free of nuclear weapons; and augment and accentuate cleanup programs that are truly comprehensive, permanently eliminating the threat to groundwater.

October 18, 2022

NNSA Los Alamos Field Office
3747 W. Jemez Road
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Via [email protected]

Dear National Nuclear Security Administration:

Nuclear Watch New Mexico hereby submits these scoping comments on the new Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS).

Executive Summary

First, NNSA should complete a new nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement on expanded plutonium pit production. A new LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement should then be “tiered” off of that document and address all of these issues outlined in these scoping comments, and in particular the site-specific impacts of expanded plutonium pit production. In the event that NNSA continues its arguably illegal behavior in not completing a new PEIS, a new draft LANL SWEIS should nevertheless analyze the issues outlined in these scoping comments, particularly expanded plutonium pit production.
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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)
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:
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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)