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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 1/24/06 

DOE Manager To Hear Advisory Board, Citizen Concerns Regarding Nuclear Disposal;

Secretive Disposal Plans Face Scrutiny, Censure 

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

On Wednesday, January 25 (tomorrow), local Department of Energy (DOE) manager Mr. Ed Wilmot will address the Northern New Mexico Citizen Advisory Board (CAB) regarding the CAB’s 30+ unanswered recommendations to the DOE, along with numerous information requests which are likewise unanswered.    

The meeting will be held in the Jemez Complex of the Santa Fe Community College, 6401 Richards Avenue, from 1:30 pm to 8:00 pm.  Mr. Wilmot will be at the lectern from 4:00 to 5:00 pm.  After a break for dinner, public comment will commence at 6:00 pm.  The agenda for the meeting can be found at http://www.nnmcab.org/.

One of the CAB’s key recommendations has been to end the practice of disposal of nuclear waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  This 9/28/05 recommendation can be found at http://www.nnmcab.org/recommendations/recommendation-2005-10.pdf

For more information on the dump itself and expansion plans for it, see http://lasg.org/waste/lanl-waste-index.htm and linked pages.

The DOE’s current plans to expand LANL’s nuclear dump site, and their own required justifications and analyses of those plans, have so far been withheld from the public and the CAB, however, as discussed below. 

Prior to the CAB’s recommendation for the most part, some 90 New Mexico organizations, 275 New Mexico businesses, the City of Santa Fe, 74 national and international organizations, and about 5,000 New Mexicans have also requested closure of Area G.  The City of Taos has subsequently also joined the call to close the dump.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s office said, in July 2001 and subsequently that operation of LANL’s nuclear and chemical waste disposal site, called “Area G,” has been illegal since late 1985.

Tomorrow, members of the Study Group and others will be present to support the CAB’s recommendation to end nuclear disposal at LANL and to renew the call for transparency and accountability in DOE decisionmaking.  There will be some new visual materials and summary handouts available. 

Overview

The prospect of continued nuclear and chemical waste disposal in shallow pits on LANL’s narrow, relatively moist and deeply-fractured mesas, adjacent to springs and streams, upstream from public water supplies – and concurrent with what is already a greater than $1 billion dollar “cleanup” program – raises quite a few questions. 

By way of background, more than 90% of the waste to be disposed in the expanded dump sites (of which there are now four: three at TA-54 and one much larger one at TA-67) is expected to be newly-generated waste, not waste generated from building demolition or environmental cleanup.  Waste disposal rates for the coming 6+ decades are not expected to be much below those of the past 6+ decades (see http://lasg.org/waste/lanl-doewaste.htm and the “expanded operations” alternative chosen by DOE at http://lasg.org/waste/lanl-waste.htm.)  Much of this new waste, in turn, is expected to be made in LANL’s expanding plutonium operations.

Just a few of the issues facing DOE, the LANL contractor, the CAB, the state of New Mexico, and the public are:

  • DOE orders require a “Performance Assessment” (PA), an internal analysis of its “low-level” nuclear dumps to be renewed each five years, in lieu of any external permit.  The PA is three years overdue; the cognizant DOE official has not seen LANL’s “draft,” has not heard from LANL for the past 2 months, and apparently is not included in LANL’s “peer review” process.  Neither is the CAB, DOE’s official, hand-picked advisory board, or the public included in this review.  The Study Group has been requesting the PA, which because of its “draft” status is ostensibly shielded from U.S. and state information laws, for 3 years.  An anonymous LANL internal reviewer of the prior PA concurred with us that the PA, the basis of continued disposal since 1997, is a deeply flawed document which did not meet DOE’s own standards. 

            Among the many technical issues in play:

o       The period over which risks and hazards will be evaluated;

o       The duration of assumed site control and constraints on intrusion scenarios after that;

o       Whether future residential and agriculture land uses will be considered;

o       What range of climate assumptions will be included;

o       What assumptions about fracture flow will be included; etc.

  • Congress, suspecting that DOE’s on-site nuclear waste disposal practices are not cost-effective, has required a life-cycle cost analysis of disposal at Area G and other on-site DOE locations vs. comparable costs elsewhere.  DOE cannot write such an analysis without knowing what closure and post-closure criteria to meet.  Any requirement to actually remove buried waste (e.g. any of the buried transuranic [TRU] waste interred at Area G) would increase closure costs by many multiples.
     
  • What is to be done with the TRU waste now stored above filled pits at Area G and elsewhere at LANL, and when will it be done?  DOE orders do not provide for safe and secure storage for this material.

  • Will the State and/or tribes seek natural resources damages under Superfund for the permanent contamination which continues to increase at LANL?  One recommendation under consideration by the CAB tomorrow might make such restitution more difficult.

  • Will the CAB ask DOE to explore removal of buried waste?  Will the State of New Mexico do so in its review of DOE’s closure plan for Area G slated for this year?  Waste removal has the potential to create a large number of long-term jobs in the region, but like plutonium pit production, it must be done carefully to be safe.

  • Finally and simply, will DOE cease disposal at LANL, and if so when? 

***ENDS***


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