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

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.

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