The lawsuit notes that Nuclear Watch New Mexico previously filed a lawsuit against the DOE over its non-compliance with the 2016 Consent Order.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a statement that “What New Mexicans really deserve (is) to have needed cleanup drive funding instead of the budget that DOE wants driving cleanup. We strongly salute the Environment Department for taking legal action against DOE’s scheme of expanding dirty nuclear weapons production over cleanup.”
SANTA FE – The state Environment Department has lost patience with the U.S. Department of Energy over what it says is a “continuing pattern of delay and noncompliance” with the cleanup of hazardous legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posing a health risk to people in surrounding communities.
After a dispute resolution process broke down, the New Mexico Environment Department late Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit against the DOE in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe. It claims that DOE has failed to meet objectives identified in compliance orders in 2005 and 2016 and has dragged its feet in cleaning up contamination left behind from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.
It asks that a court-supervised process be conducted to resolve the issues.
“We’re a state agency, and our patience is long,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a phone interview. “But our patience runs out quickly when there’s an inability to meet promises.”
Jay Coghlan, executive director of nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico, agreed that hard deadlines are crucial in making real headway on cleanup.
“The main thing we would want is to have cleanup drive funding instead of a budget that [the Energy Department] wants driving cleanup,” Coghlan said.
State regulators are suing the U.S. Department of Energy for what they say is a failure to adequately clean up legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and they will impose tougher rules for disposing of waste generated at the lab during the Cold War and Manhattan Project.
Critics have bashed the 2016 agreement for waste cleanup — known as a consent order — that was crafted under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, saying it weakened the original 2005 order by eliminating real deadlines and imposing few penalties for slow or deficient work.
The lawsuit, filed in state District Court, seeks to cancel the consent order, fine the Energy Department about $330,000 for not meeting its cleanup obligations and have the court oversee mediation between the two parties for a new waste agreement.
“N3B is going after the low-hanging fruit, cleaning up less than 2,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Let’s hear their plan for cleaning up 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G that are already migrating towards our irreplaceable groundwater.”
Coghlan said N3B touting this small part of the cleanup smacks of “propaganda to promote the toothless 2016 consent order.”
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s contractor in charge of cleaning up radioactive waste produced during the Cold War and Manhattan Project has completed its first goal under a 2016 agreement.
Newport News Nuclear BWXT, also known as N3B, finished removing almost 1,800 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris from four sites in Upper Mortandad, Upper Cañada del Buey and Threemile canyons.
Crews packed and shipped the material to a disposal site in Clive, Utah.
“Cleanup of these sites ultimately protects human health by eliminating the likelihood that contamination will reach the water system through stormwater runoff,” Brenda Bowlby, head of N3B’s soil remediation program, said in a statement.
Removing the toxic debris also protects the area’s wildlife, she added.
The cleanup project was one of 17 that N3B aims to do under the 2016 agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and the state Environment Department.
“The coronavirus pandemic demonstrates why we should get cleanup done once and for all,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “What we do as humans ebbs and flows with history, but the radioactive and toxic wastes that we leave behind last longer than our recorded history. We should be acting now.”
The U.S. government’s efforts to clean up Cold War-era waste from nuclear research and bomb making at federal sites around the country has lumbered along for decades, often at a pace that watchdogs and other critics say threatens public health and the environment.
Now, fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic is resulting in more challenges as the nation’s only underground repository for nuclear waste finished ramping down operations Wednesday to keep workers safe.
“I can’t understand why this administration does not value cleanup and would risk breaking the legal commitments [the Department of Energy] has made to the state of New Mexico with budget numbers like that,” Heinrich said. “Why is the cleanup number so abysmal in this budget?”
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich fired tough questions and caustic comments at Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Tuesday over the proposed $100 million cut in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s cleanup program for radioactive waste it produced during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
“To have a 46 percent cut in Los Alamos cleanup is stunning,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “We’ve got nuclear weapons on steroids and cleanup is the poor stepchild subject to the whims of DOE.”
Los Alamos National Laboratory’s long-term environmental cleanup program would be cut by $100 million under the U.S. Energy Department’s proposed budget for 2021.
The agency’s preliminary “budget in brief” shows a proposed 46 percent reduction in funding for the lab’s environmental management, which handles cleanup of legacy waste generated before 1999, including during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
A mile-long, highly toxic chromium plume under the Sandia and Mortandad canyons and the massive radioactive waste buried in Area G are the results of shoddy disposal that occurred around the lab before environmental regulations were enacted in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the Energy Department wants to increase spending by 25 percent on nuclear weapons to help meet the Trump administration’s goal of having LANL and Savannah River Site in South Carolina produce a combined 80 plutonium pits a year by 2030.
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.
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!
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
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.
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