Q: How much does it cost to cleanup a 65-acre, 50-year-old, nuclear weapons laboratory unlined dump full of low-level radioactive waste (LLW), radioactively contaminated infectious waste, asbestos contaminated material, transuranic waste, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and much more?
A: About 8 years of the Lab’s nuclear weapons activities budget.
First, define cleanup. (Closure is the better term to use.)
The Lab recently submitted a revised (September 2009) corrective measures evaluation (CME) of Material Disposal Area (MDA) G, located within Area G of Technical Area 54, at Los Alamos National Laboratory to the NM Environment Department. The goal of the CME report was to recommend a corrective measures alternative for closure of the site and to address contamination releases in compliance with the March 1, 2005, Compliance Order on Consent (Consent Order).
This CME report screened 14 corrective measures alternatives based on their ability to meet the regulatory threshold and other qualitative screening criteria. Seven of the 14 alternatives evaluated met the screening criteria and capital costs were estimated:
1. Alternative 1B: maintenance of existing cover – $9.4 million;
2. Alternative 2B: evapotranspiration (ET) cover – $64.8 million;
3. Alternative 2C: ET cover with partial waste excavation – $46.5 million;
4. Alternative 2D: ET cover with partial waste excavation, targeted stabilization – $48 million;
5. Alternative 5B: complete waste excavation, waste treatment, off-site disposal – $9.1 billion (This is down from last year’s estimate of $20 billion.);
6. Alternative 5C: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA Subtitle C landfill – $6.1 billion; and
7. Alternative 5D: complete waste excavation, on-site waste treatment, disposal of wastes in a RCRA corrective action management unit – $6.1 billion.(All alternatives include monitoring and maintenance, and soil vapor extraction, but don’t include a 55% contingency.)
The Lab’s recommended corrective measures alternative is Alternative 2C.
The right thing to do would be Alternative 5B, complete waste excavation. The Lab could cover the $9.1 billion by redirecting the $1.2 billion it spends annually on nuclear weapons activities.
The hard-working folks over at NMED have to make the final decision, and there will be opportunities for public input.
Find the report MDA G CME R1 Sept 09 [Warning, it’s 14MB]
The gist of NNSA’s important announcement: After $5 billion and counting,
NIF’s laser beams CAN BE effectively delivered and ARE CAPABLE of creating sufficient x-ray energy to drive fuel implosion, an important step toward the ultimate goal of fusion ignition.
NIF will be a cornerstone of a critical national security mission, ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing…
This is more of Tom D’Agostino’s positioning of NIF as essential for CTBT ratification (which he has done face-to-face to me and others). That’s not a prudent deal, to hinge CTBT ratification on what NIF “MIGHT” be capable of.
… while also providing a path to explore the frontiers of basic science, and potential technologies for energy independence. It is a prime example of how our investment in nuclear security is providing the tools to tackle a broad range of national challenges.
Is there nothing NIF can’t do? Recall that exactly a year ago tomorrow they had Terminator Gov. Schwarzenegger going “gee whiz,” as follows:
This laser technology has the potential to revolutionize our energy future,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. “If successful, this new endeavor could generate thousands of megawatts of carbon-free nuclear power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants. This type of innovation is why we are a world leader in science, technology and clean energy, and I could not be prouder that this work is happening right here in California.
Speaking for myself, I will grudgingly concede that NIF has succeeded in its real mission of ensuring that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory survives as a nuclear weapons lab (NIF-specific funding is 25% of all DOE funding for LLNL). In 1995 the Galvin Commission recommended eliminating the redundancy of having 2 nuclear weapons design labs and ending weapons programs at Livermore. Then rose NIF…..
The bolded emphases on NNSA’s repeated use of qualifying language and future tense is mine. Does this press release really say anything of substance at all?
In the latest of a string of fire system deficiencies on Wednesday September 30th, LANL management declared the fire suppression system inoperable in PF-4 at TA-55. Facility activities were placed in stand-by mode, which were still stood down as of three weeks later on Oct. 23rd.
DNFSB explained that the stand down was based on recent hydraulic calculations that concluded the system does not achieve the water density coverage required. Basically, the sprinklers in 13 of approximately 100 fire suppression areas at PF-4 cannot meet the current required gallons per minute estimated to effectively extinguish a fire. (Read the Oct. 2nd-23rd DNFSB reports)
One has to wonder – What is the cost to the taxpayer of PF-4 being stood down for nearly a month?
These reports come on the heels of last week’s DNFSB recommendation that the Lab must immediately do something about its risk to the public of a seismically induced fire at PF-4, which was estimated to exceed the DOE guidelines by more than 100 times. In a worst-case situation, an earthquake-induced fire could set free enough breathable plutonium that a person on the perimeter of the facility would receive a lethal dose of radiation.
Speaking of seismically induced fires, I am reminded of a March 2007 LANL report, Seismic Fragility of the LANL Fire Water Distribution System (LA-14325), which explains how numerous valves in the fire water distribution system at the Lab would have to be manually closed to insure proper pressure to facilities on fire after a seismic event.
Granted, these may be low probability events, but they have high consequences. The Lab is playing with fire by not adequately funding upgrades to its existing fire systems now, before embarking construction of any new facilities.
In this YouTube video Energy Secretary Chu and Tom D’Agostino celebrate the Kansas City Plant’s 60th anniversary with a plaque mounted with vacuum tubes for the B61 radar unit. STRATCOM chief Chilton has repeatedly used the presence of vacuum tubes in the nuclear weapon as a rationale for complete new-design nuclear weapons (the Reliable Replacement Warheads, or facsimiles thereof), instead of modernizing just the radar.
Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the General Services Administration are engaged in a complex scheme for private financing of a new Kansas City Plant for which the Kansas City municipal government will hold title because of municipal bonds issued to finance its road and utility infrastructure. This is enabled by Missouri state law, which gives tax abatement authority to municipal governments in order to fight urban blight. In this case, 185 acres primarily used for soybean agriculture was declared blighted in order to grease the deal. The result: a city government owning a federal nuclear weapons production plant in the name of fighting urban blight!
Historically, the Kansas City Plant has manufactured and/or procured 85% of all types of nuclear weapons components by volume. KCP was excluded from analysis in the Complex Transformation Supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement because NNSA falsely argued that its nonnuclear components production mission would not be affected by decisions made elsewhere in the nuclear weapons complex. Au contraire, the rationale for the new Kansas City Plant was originally predicated upon extensive production of new Reliable Replacement Warheads and Life Extension Programs involving existing nuclear weapons numbering in the 1,000’s.
Hopefully that rationale is now seriously outdated.
Apparently the National Nuclear Security Administration reimburses Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) $397,341 for LANL Director Anastasio’s salary. Then LANS LLC pays him another $400K to promote the NNSA agenda from which LANS LLC derives a profit. During all this time Anastasio also acts as President of the for profit LANS (for which he gets a combined total of $800K).
Which hat does Anastasio then wear when the country needs his best advice? Obama wants the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified as one beginning step toward a nuclear weapons-free world. The Labs want the Senate to attach “Safeguards” to the Treaty during the ratification process that will have the contrary effect of enshrining nuclear weapons design and production capabilities into perpetuity. LANS profits from those capabilities. How do we know that Anastasio will give untainted advice on serious questions such as whether this country will genuinely lead toward enhanced global security through the verifiable multilateral elimination of nuclear weapons?
For more on what the nuclear weapons labs want through CTBT Safeguards see our September 2009 press release:
Santa Fe, NM – On December 10 President Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for his beginning efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The President is paid $400,000 a year for running the country. Michael Anastasio, the Director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab in northern New Mexico, is paid double that of the President, $800,348 a year. Unlike the President, Mr. Anastasio has been an unabashed supporter of new-design nuclear weapons and resumed industrial-scale nuclear weapons production. Over 60% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget is specifically dedicated to nuclear weapons research and production, while much of its remaining budget supports those core programs.
It is profoundly regrettable that so much taxpayers’ money is misdirected toward nuclear weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the spirit of the Peace Prize that President Obama is about to receive.
From October 26 – 30, 2009
Near Miss –
• NA – Los Alamos National Laboratory (Significance Category 3). On October 22, a Water
Quality sampling crew discovered two hikers with three dogs at Technical Area 68 (TA-68)
during High Explosive (HE) Operations. The hikers were instructed to exit DOE property.
During interviews, the hikers stated they had hiked approximately one mile into TA-15.
During that time, TA-39-6 conducted two HE shots. A third shot scheduled for another shot
site was cancelled because of equipment issues. The hikers did not enter the TA-39-6 shot
Hazard Areas. Had the third shot been conducted, the hikers could have been within the
Hazard C Area with the potential for contamination or HE injury. A radiological control
technician surveyed the hikers and dogs for contamination. The contamination surveys
indicated no detectable activity and the hikers were released.
I’m glad everyone is OK, but I have some questions. The hikers clearly crossed a fence or a gate with one of those warning signs on it. There is no mention of security forces being called. The Lab has been busted for security issues many times in the past and can ill afford any more security problems. Is it possible that the Lab is trying to avoid having this incident count as a security violation? If they found me walking my dogs inside the fence, I’ll bet I would at get to explain my story to the guys in the black SUVs.
An October 27 press release from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)
“Defense Board Catches Los Alamos Trying to Dodge Plutonium Safety Vulnerability” revolves around a new Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) revelation of public safety vulnerability and seismic issues at TA-55 (The Lab’s plutonium Technical Area).
The DNFSB has been very patient on the safety issues at TA-55. In a September 23, 2005 weekly report, they stated that LANL needed to try to justify a passive confinement strategy, continue plans to reduce radioactive materials, and to seismically upgrade the glove-box supports that have not already been upgraded. These issues are still unaddressed as of the latest DNFSB report.
Seismic issues run deep at Los Alamos. NNSA currently has plans to construct and operate the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement–Nuclear Facility (CMRR–NF) to support plutonium operations as a replacement for portions of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility, a 1950’s structure that faces significant safety and seismic challenges. In 1999, a fault was discovered under the old CMR building, which has been neglected, contaminated, and has several abandoned wings. This fault was the major reason given to build a new facility 1.2 miles away at TA-55.
The Lab has big plans for plutonium. In December 2008, NNSA released a Record of Decision for its Complex Transformation Environmental Impact Statement that keeps manufacturing and research and development involving plutonium at Los Alamos and blesses the building of the CMRR-NF. This decision was a combination of two alternatives – a Distributed Centers of Excellence and a Capability-Based alternative. But to compensate for the nearby fault lines, the CMRR-NF is now being designed with 10-foot thick concrete floors and there are plans being designed to pump grout into a layer of fragile volcanic ash under the proposed facility. Current construction estimates for this facility are $2 billion.
The Lab has been negligent in taking care of its plutonium flagship, TA-55. It has not been a good steward of plutonium missions. Los Alamos is the wrong location, seismically. Congress must seriously consider ending this unnecessary plutonium work.