By Sarah Halasz Graham
An 85-gallon drum of radioactive waste leaked into its secondary container. Nearly two dozen waste containers were either mislabeled or not labeled at all. Officials failed to conduct mandated hazardous waste inspections.
During Los Alamos National Laboratory’s most recent fiscal year, officials logged 69 instances of noncompliance with the federal permit that allows the facility to store, manage and treat hazardous waste, according to a newly released annual report that details the violations.
The transgressions, all of which are described in the report as nonthreatening to human health and the environment, amount to a nearly threefold increase over the previous year when lab officials self-reported 25 incidents.
“While our program has shown considerable improvement in recent years, we continue to strive to meet the letter and spirit of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” a laboratory spokesman said Monday in an emailed statement, referring to the 1976 law that governs the management of hazardous waste. “These efforts will continue.”
The spokesman noted that in most cases steps were taken to correct violations as soon as they were discovered.
LANL officials are required to report such instances of noncompliance to the New Mexico Environment Department each year. This year’s list of violations also includes descriptions of waste stored beyond a one-year limit, a slew of missed public reporting deadlines and faulty fire alarms.
But by far the most frequent violations over the period from Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018 involved mislabeled or unlabeled waste containers — errors that in the past have had dangerous consequences.
In April 2017, an unlabeled container caused a fire in an on-site plutonium facility. Then, in June of that year, the National Nuclear Security Administration began an investigation after LANL shipped mislabeled weapons-grade plutonium out of state by air, in violation of federal law. NNSA officials called the error “absolutely unacceptable.”
In the aftermath of those incidents, LANL officials vowed to overhaul policies and remedy the perennial problem, but this past year, the lab logged 22 incidents of unlabeled or mislabeled containers, according to the report.
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