Energy Dept Misrepresents Cost and Scope of Los Alamos Cleanup
Santa Fe, NM – The Department of Energy (DOE) has released a 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate Summary of proposed future cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). At the beginning of that document DOE declares that “An estimated 5,000 cubic meters of legacy waste remains, of which approximately 2,400 cm [cubic meters] is retrievably stored below ground”, a claim which was widely reported in New Mexican media. From there DOE estimates that it will cost $2.9 to $3.8 billion to complete so-called cleanup around 2040.
The public was notified of the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate in a September 15 Santa Fe City press release, with the subtitle “Study Lays Out Timeline, Costs, and More, Answers Critical Questions with Honest Assessment.” Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales is quoted, “This report represents the first and most comprehensive release of specific plans to complete the cleanup of legacy waste at LANL, and is a big step forward for the people in these communities who want to see a concrete commitment to making progress.” Mayor Gonzales went on to thank Senators Udall and Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan for their help in obtaining the report.
However, the DOE report is far from honest. It intentionally omits any mention of approximately 150,000 cubic meters of poorly characterized radioactive and toxic wastes just at Area G (LANL’s largest waste dump) alone, an amount of wastes 30 times larger than DOE acknowledges in the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate. In reality, DOE and LANL plan to not clean up Area G, instead installing an “engineered cover” and leaving the wastes permanently buried. This will create a permanent nuclear waste dump above the regional groundwater aquifer, three miles uphill from the Rio Grande. Radioactive and toxic wastes are buried directly in the ground without liners, and migration of plutonium has been detected 200 feet below Area G’s surface.
Santa Fe Mayor Gonzales is the Vice-Chair of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. The Coalition is comprised of elected official from eight cities, counties and pueblos surrounding LANL, and is overwhelmingly funded by DOE and Los Alamos County. The same Santa Fe City press release quotes the RCLC Executive Director, “The Lifecycle Baseline documentation provides our communities the necessary foundation to properly advocate on behalf of the best possible scenarios for cleaning up legacy nuclear waste at the Laboratory in the most time and cost-efficient manner. After years of requests for this document, we now have the tool that can get us to additional cleanup dollars to get the job done.”
However, the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate Summary itself states that it is “based on realistic expectations of annual funding for the remaining work” (last page, unnumbered) and “annual funding is expected to remain constant throughout the duration of the cleanup mission” (p. 5). While annual funding for the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs has climbed to $1.5 billion, cleanup has fallen from a high of $225 million in FY 2014 to $189 million requested for FY 2017. Moreover, this trend of declining cleanup funding may be exacerbated by the planned trillion dollar “modernization” of U.S. nuclear forces, including research and production sites like LANL (which is slated to quadruple production of the plutonium pit triggers for nuclear weapons). Instead of being a tool for additional dollars for genuine, comprehensive cleanup, the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate Summary is a DOE ploy to avoid cleaning up more than 90% of all wastes at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Executive Director, commented, “Mayor Gonzales and the Regional Coalition are to be commended for getting any Lab cleanup plan at all out of the Department of Energy. But now they should take the next step and get the Department of Energy to quit being so chintzy with cleanup. Our elected officials should demand that DOE retract its false claim that there is only 5,000 cubic meters of waste left at LANL to clean up. Then our politicians should push hard for a genuine, comprehensive cleanup plan that permanently protects the environment and our precious water resources while creating hundreds of high paying jobs.”
NM Environment Department Plans to Unveil Revised Los Alamos Cleanup Agreement
March 30, 2016, 1PM, Sandia Resort
Public Comment Is Invited
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
NM Environment Department and officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory plan to roll out a draft of the revised Consent Order, which is the agreement for fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy Cold War waste from nuclear weapons production and research. The last compliance date of the original agreement was December 6, 2015, and although much investigation was completed, much more work is still needed.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes
A new schedule is mostly what is needed
Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
But we suspect big changes and not all for the better protection of Northern NM.
Your voice will be important! Please join us!
Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board Meeting
March 30, 2016
1:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Sandia Resort, Ballroom A
30 Rainbow Road
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113
Time Action Presenter
1:00 p.m. Call to Order Lee Bishop, DDFO
Welcome and Introductions Doug Sayre, Chair
Approval of Agenda
Approval of Minutes of January 27, 2016
1:20 p.m. Old Business
a. Written Reports – See Packet Enclosures (5 minutes)
b. Other items
1:30 p.m. New Business
1:35 p.m. Update from Deputy Designated Federal Officer(s)
Lee Bishop/Michael Gardipe
1:45 p.m. Presentation on Revisions to Consent Order,
Upon Opening of Public Comment Period
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn
3:00 p.m. Break
3:20 p.m. Presentation Continues
4:00 p.m. Public Comment Period
4:15 p.m. Update on FY 17/18 EM Budget Genna Hackett
4:45 p.m. Consideration and Action on Draft Recommendation 2016-02, Doug Sayre
“FY 2018 Budget Priorities”
5:00 p.m. Wrap-up Comments from NNMCAB Members
a. Were your questions answered regarding the presentations?
b. Requests for future presentations or information
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Nuclear Watch NM Gives Notice of Intent to Sue Over Lack of Cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in LANL Cleanup Negotiations
Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
Deadline for Last Cleanup Milestone of LANL Consent Order Passes
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in Negotiations
Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, December 6,was the deadline for the last compliance milestone in the Consent Order between the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Department of Energy (DOE) that governs cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Ironically, that last milestone required the submittal of a report by the Lab on how it successfully completed cleanup of Area G, its largest waste dump. Real comprehensive cleanup is decades away at current funding levels. One of the purposes of the 2005 Consent Order was to prod Congress to increase funding for cleanup of 70 years of neglected Cold War contamination at the Lab.
NMED has the final decision on what form cleanup of hazardous wastes takes at LANL. But any revised Consent Order is still off in the future, and the degree of public participation in its formulation yet to be determined by NMED. Meanwhile, LANL plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, 4 miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
Following protracted negotiations and threatened litigation by DOE against NMED, the Environment Department succeeded in getting DOE and the LANL contractor to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. However, beginning in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, monitored “transuranic” (TRU) wastes from nuclear bomb production at Area G to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico.
The stated rationale of this so-called 3706 Campaign was to minimize the risk from wildfire following the 2010 Las Conchas Fire that burned within 3.5 miles of Area G. However, if those TRU wastes were really at risk from wildfire, they would have burned during the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire that came within a half-mile of Area G. The Framework Agreement allowed LANL to discontinue most legacy cleanup to concentrate on TRU shipments that should have already been completed.
Moreover, the 3706 Campaign itself ended in disaster in February 2014 when an improperly treated radioactive waste drum from LANL ruptured at WIPP, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing down that multi-billion dollar facility. Dealing with the 59 similarly treated “suspect” drums still at LANL will use a substantial amount of scarce cleanup funding for at least the next two years. Combined with the need to address a large chromium groundwater plume discovered after the original Consent Order went into effect, cleanup of buried mixed radioactive wastes will remain on the back burner, if ever addressed.
Further, since 2011 LANL has requested and NMED perfunctorily granted more than 150 milestone extensions, thus effectively eviscerating the Consent Order without public comment and consent. Which brings us to today, after the last compliance milestone deadline has expired, with little cleanup actually accomplished since 2012.A new schedule of cleanup is on hold until a revised Consent Order is negotiated.
Previously NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has said that a draft revised Consent Order would be released for a 60-day public comment period before the end of 2015. But as of mid-November negotiations had not started. More recently Secretary Flynn has said that a draft renewed Consent Order would be released only after the schedule of payments is finalized for a $73 million settlement over WIPP violations. WhileNuclear Watch New Mexico appreciates NMED’s firmness on the WIPP settlements, we would like to see the same amount of zeal applied to enforcing cleanup at LANL through the Consent Order.
NukeWatch strongly believes that much more vigorous public participation steps, including the opportunity for a public hearing, are legally required by the existing Consent Order. Specifically, the March 2005 Consent Order incorporated the full public participation requirements applicable to hazardous waste permits. Federal environmental regulations, which are incorporated into New Mexico state regulations, establish the public participation procedures for various types of permit modifications, including extending final compliance dates. These are deeper levels of public participation than the 60-day public comment period that NMED is currently contemplating. In our view, a 60-day public comment period on a draft Consent Order is tantamount to commenting on a done deal already negotiated between DOE and NMED.
Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, stated, “The requirements are clear for deep and meaningful public participation in LANL cleanup decisions, including the opportunity for the interested public to have a seat at the negotiating table and the possibility for a public hearing. NMED must make Cold War legacy cleanup a priority at LANL and should start by prioritizing full public participation while negotiating the revised Consent Order.”
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, added, “Ultimately this is all about the future of cleanup at LANL, which is receiving less federal funding while the nuclear weapons programs that created the mess to begin with are getting more money. We want nothing short of comprehensive cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab. That would be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and the environment while creating hundreds of high-paying jobs.
Important Public Meeting On the Future of Cleanup At Los Alamos – Join Us on November 12
The future of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes is being evaluated now. Will Northern New Mexico be turned into a permanent nuclear waste dump?
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have been revising the 2005 Consent Order (CO), which is the agreement between the State and the Feds for fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy Cold War wastes. The work in the CO, was supposed to be completed by December 2015. It was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan with investigations of contaminated sites followed by cleanup decisions and remediation. Milestones and penalties were included to keep funding and cleanup on track.
What have LANL and NMED come up with to replace the 2005 Consent Order? Looks like we’ll have to wait until Thursday November 12th to find out. NMED and LANL have announced a public meeting to explain their ideas for the revised CO. There is an opportunity for public comments at the special meeting and we need you there. But it is unclear what NMED will do with any comments made. The public has been left out so far. Nuclear Watch New Mexico is pressing for meaningful responses to all comments and for actual inclusion of the public’s wishes into the revised CO.
In particular NukeWatch will be pushing for concrete milestones that are set from the beginning for all actions, for penalties when deadlines are not met, and for a new final end date. The revised Consent Order cannot be open-ended.
Northern New Mexico has been waiting long enough for cleanup at Los Alamos. Much of the waste buried in unlined dumps perched above our aquifer has been slowly releasing into the ground and heading towards our aquifer since the 1950s and 1960s. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s. Enough is enough.
NukeWatch Pushes Environment Department for More Public Input in Los Alamos Cleanup
An in-depth article, Consent order facing changes, by Mark Oswald in the Albuquerque Journal (October 9, 2015) lays out how legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is being negotiated between DOE and the NM Environment Department (NMED) without the fully required public participation. The 2005 Consent Order (CO), which addresses the fence-to-fence cleanup of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of Cold War legacy radioactive and hazardous waste in the ground at the Lab, was due to reach it’s final milestone this December. For many reasons, including the closure of WIPP due to improper radioactive waste drum packing practices at LANL, the December 2015 deadline will not be meet.
Please don’t think that, just because deadlines were not reached that it was a failure. Much progress on cleanup at LANL was made under the 2005 Consent Order. About 2,100 cleanup sites were originally identified, ranging from small spills to large landfills. Cleanup of about half of the sites has been completed. Initial investigation of about 90 percent of the remaining sites has been completed. Many cleanup alternatives were also investigated at the remaining sites and options have been presented. A groundwater monitoring well infrastructure was installed, with more monitoring wells on the way.
In Oswald’s article, NMED’s Kathryn Roberts stated that, “The 2005 deal was focused on investigative work and characterization of LANL’s legacy waste.” We at NukeWatch, feel that the goal of the 2005 Consent Order was always the cleanup of LANL and that the investigations and characterization of the many waste sites were just the first steps. There are milestones in the CO, with dates, for the actual cleanup of all the legacy waste sites at Los Alamos. The lab’s final “milestone” from the 2005 Consent Order was supposed to be a “remedy completion report,” due on Dec. 6, on how Area G, the Lab’s largest waste site, had been cleaned up.
NMED and DOE/LANL are negotiating the new CO now and have publically stated plans to rollout the draft for the new CO this November for a 60-day public comment period. Nuclear Watch NM believes that these negotiations must have public input.
This gets us to one of our main reasons why we feel the need for more public input. We are concerned that the new CO will not have enforceable milestones for all cleanup projects from the beginning. Deciding every 1 to 3 years which sites will be addressed for a cleanup ‘campaign’ and then what that schedule should be will insure that Los Alamos never addresses all the sites. This would revert cleanup back to the way it was done before the 2005 Consent Order with budget driving cleanup. But the purpose of the CO is to have cleanup drive the budget. A schedule for all cleanups must be set from the beginning and the Lab must be held accountable every step along the way by getting the money and doing the work on time.
We will insist on a new final compliance date for the last milestone of the last legacy cleanup project. Cleanup at Los Alamos cannot be open-ended.
NukeWatch’s September 21 letter to NMED that explains our position that a “Class 3 Permit Modification” is required is here.
Safety Analysis Flaws Plague Los Alamos TRU Waste Handing Facility
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) believes that the Radioassay and Nondestructive Testing (RANT) Shipping Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory must resolve safety issues prior to resuming operations. The DNFSB staff review team identified “significant flaws” in hazard and accident analyses.
The RANT Shipping Facility is used to load transuranic (TRU) waste, typically either waste drums or standard waste boxes, into TRUPACT shipping containers. This facility supports the LANL TRU program and will be used long-term. The RANT Shipping Facility is currently in standby with no TRU waste present, pending the resumption of TRU waste shipments.
In November 2013, the contractor, LANS, submitted a new safety analysis, called a Documented Safety Analysis (DSA), to DOE oversight officials at the Los Alamos Field Office (LAFO) for approval. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down due to a radiation leak in the underground. It is believed that wheat-based kitty litter was mixed with nitrate salts in a transuranic waste drum as it was processed at Los Alamos that potentially caused the reaction that breached the container. In July 2014, LAFO completed its review of the RANT DSA and noted only four actions needed.
The DNFSB staff reviewed the DSA and identified significant weaknesses in the hazard analysis (HA), accident analysis, and safety controls. The review revealed inadequate identification and implementation of safety controls to protect the public and workers.
The DNFSB report found that LANS and LAFO underestimated consequences from potential crane failure accidents, seismic events, and fires. Underestimating possible consequences like these can lead to increased radiologic releases to the environment.
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.
Santa Fe Mayor Calls to Not Allow the Creation of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Dump at Los Alamos
Santa Fe, NM – Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds the demand by the Mayor of Santa Fe that the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) not rule out alternatives to their so-called “cleanup” plan for Area G, the Lab’s largest radioactive waste dump. LANL plans to “cap and cover” and permanently leave one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried forever.
Mayor David Coss will ask the Santa Fe City Council to approve his resolution to seek real cleanup alternatives at their December 11th meeting. Mayor Coss is also chairman of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities that lobbies Congress for increased Lab funding. Yesterday he introduced his resolution to the Regional Coalition as well.
LANL is relying on their own outrageous estimate of $29 billion for removal of the waste at Area G as a rationale to leave the waste in place. Nuclear Watch has performed a cost comparison that compares the Lab’s estimate on a recent cleanup actually performed by the Lab and also to another Laboratory estimate. Our cost comparison shows that removal of the waste could actually cost less than $6 billion. The Lab’s preference is to cap and cover and leave the waste in place at Area G.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Program Director, commented, “LANL should quit playing games that cap and cover somehow represents genuine cleanup. For the same price as 5 years’ worth of nuclear weapons work that caused this mess to begin with, Area G could be fully cleaned up. I echo the Mayor’s words that this could be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high-paying jobs. I call on other local governments and everyone to pick up the Santa Fe Mayor’s challenge.”