The Department of Energy’s new attempt at “enhanced public engagement” on legacy nuclear waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory failed both its stated objectives to consider public input and provide public education. To turn things around, officials should actually listen to public attendees and provide complete information at future meetings.
In the two-hour June 26 forum in Los Alamos, officials from the department’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office, alongside N3B, the contractor tasked with implementing the cleanup, repeatedly proclaimed their interest in hearing from the public and pledged total transparency, but they didn’t give anyone in the packed room a chance to speak.
The only “stakeholders” who spoke were Energy and N3B employees. The “Stakeholder Engagement” and “Community Values” sessions entailed a professional N3B public relations expert reading and answering questions from selected question cards. All in all, the environmental management field office only allowed a handful of such restricted questions, denying the one audience member who had the audacity to actually try to ask a question out loud.
In the future, the field office should allocate at least half of the time to audience questions and commentary. The public should be able to ask unfiltered questions aloud, instead of submitting written questions from which PR experts can choose.
It wasn’t just the lack of real public participation that was troubling, but also the serious misrepresentations on cleanup work from environmental management and N3B.
One glossy environmental management brochure claimed more than half of the LANL legacy cleanup has been completed, omitting the fundamental fact that the vast majority of LANL’s nuclear waste is not included in the planned cleanup. Directly contradicting the Department of Energy and N3B’s claims of total transparency, they have already decided behind closed doors to “cap and cover” 150,000 cubic meters of radioactive, toxic waste in unlined pits and trenches at the lab’s Area G, thus creating a permanent nuclear waste dump that will threaten our water resources into perpetuity.