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CCNS is challenging an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act permit that allows a daily discharge of up to 40,000 gallons of treated water from the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) through Outfall 051. https://www.env.nm.gov/swqb/NPDES/Permits/NM0028355-LANL.pdf The facility treats radioactive, hazardous, and toxic liquid waste and then stores the drums of sludge containing hazardous waste. It would normally be regulated by the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, which calls for detailed regulation and provides for enhanced public participation. But, under an EPA rule, called the Wastewater Treatment Unit exemption, if a facility is regulated under a Clean Water Act permit, that facility is exempt from the Hazardous Waste Act.
Nevertheless, since November 2011, no discharge has occurred from Outfall 051. In order to have coverage under the Clean Water Act, there must be a discharge. Over seven years ago, LANL began its zero-discharge system by evaporating the discharge into the air.
LANL has struggled to keep the Clean Water Act exemption. In a 1998 report about conversion to a zero-discharge system, LANL acknowledged that if it stopped discharging through Outfall 051, it could lose the exemption, and the “[L]oss of this exemption would mean that the [Facility] would be required to meet additional [hazardous waste] regulatory guidelines regarding waste treatment practices. … The [Facility] would need to manage the [pollutants] in the waste stream and so have much better knowledge of, and control over, waste discharged to it for treatment.” It also acknowledged that enhanced public participation would be required.
The New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act and its regulations provide a higher level of regulation of the facility. The regulations are very specific about protecting human health and the environment from the generation, handling, treatment, and storage of hazardous waste and providing information to the public. Specifically, close regulation of the operation of the entire liquid waste system, including all the pipes and systems that deliver liquid waste to the treatment facility, the facility itself, and the pipes and tanks that are downstream are required.
In June 2016, CCNS, through its attorneys, Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Lindsay A. Lovejoy, requested EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas to terminate Outfall 051 from the permit. http://nmelc.org/ and http://lindsaylovejoy.com/ In August 2017, EPA denied CCNS’s request. In September, CCNS appealed the Region 6 denial to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, DC. The Board scheduled an oral argument for Thursday, February 22, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Lindsay Lovejoy, who will be arguing CCNS’s case, said, “This facility should be subject to the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act.”
In late January, the Environmental Appeals Board determined an oral argument would assist the Board in its deliberations about the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) appeal to terminate a discharge pipe at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) from the Clean Water Act industrial permit. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, February 22nd in Washington, DC.
The pipe, known as Outfall 051, discharged liquids from the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility from 1963 until November, 2010. Under the Clean Water Act, a facility must have a discharge in order to receive a permit. Even though no discharge has occurred in over seven years, Outfall 051 remains on the permit.
The treatment facility receives liquid wastes from facilities which handle radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials from across LANL, including the closely located Plutonium Facility. Most of the liquid wastes are generated by nuclear weapons research, development and manufacturing.
The current permit allows for the discharge of 40,000 gallons per day of treated liquids into a small canyon that flows into Mortandad Canyon. Since LANL adopted zero discharge, it uses a mechanical system to evaporate treated water into the air.
Leaving the outfall on the permit has serious impacts. The treatment facility manages drums of hazardous waste. It would normally be regulated by the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, which calls for detailed regulation and provides for enhanced public participation. But, under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule, called the Wastewater Treatment Unit exemption, if a facility is regulated under a Clean Water Act permit, that facility is exempt from the Hazardous Waste Act.
LANL has struggled to keep this exemption. In a 1998 report about conversion to a zero-discharge system, LANL acknowledged that if it stopped discharging through Outfall 051, it could lose the exemption, and the “[L]oss of this exemption would mean that the [Facility] would be required to meet additional [hazardous waste] regulatory guidelines regarding waste treatment practices. … The [Facility] would need to manage the [pollutants] in the waste stream and so have much better knowledge of, and control over, waste discharged to it for treatment.” It also acknowledged that enhanced public participation would be required.
In June 2016, CCNS, through its attorneys, Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, and Lindsay A. Lovejoy, requested EPA to terminate Outfall 051 from the permit. In August 2017, EPA denied CCNS’s request. In September, CCNS appealed the denial to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, DC.
Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “Your support for this important and essential work is greatly appreciated. To make a tax-deductible contribution, please visit our website at nuclearactive.org. Thank you!”
Proposed amendments to the federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act would accelerate two proposals to bring some of the nation’s commercial high-level radioactive waste to New Mexico and West Texas. Congressman John Shimkus introduced the proposed amendments which would accelerate thousands of shipments of spent fuel rods on trucks, rail, and barges. The bill, numbered H.R. 3053, would also restart the forced licensing of Yucca Mountain, a Department of Energy (DOE) site located 90 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, in a seismic and volcano-ridden area. It is interesting that Congressman Shimkus represents Illinois, which has the largest number of nuclear power plants in the nation, with 11. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3053
Both privately held corporations, Holtec, International, and Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS), have submitted license applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for consolidated interim storage facilities. The Shimkus bill brings back a term from the past – “monitored retrievable storage,” or MRS, to describe these proposed facilities. If approved, the bill would allow some, but not all, of the waste currently stored at nuclear power plants around the country, to be shipped to New Mexico or the WCS facility on the Texas-New Mexico border.
Holtec is asking to store 100,000 tons of plutonium fuel at a site halfway between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico, in Lea County. WCS is asking to store 40,000 tons of plutonium fuel at its hazardous, toxic and radioactive storage and disposal dump located in Andrews County, five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico.
Last Friday, WCS announced a private equity firm, J.F. Lehman & Co., bought the 14,900-acre facility. Lehman also owns NorthStar Group Services, a nuclear decommissioning specialist, that could supply a pipeline of waste to WCS.
Despite DOE spending millions of taxpayer dollars to explore Yucca Mountain, it is not a viable solution for disposing of high-level radioactive waste. Even though some people hope Yucca Mountain would open, the transportation threats alone would impact millions living along the truck and rail transportation routes over a period of 50 years. See State of Nevada’s January 24, 2018 powerpoint presentation, Yucca Mountain Update and Transportation Impacts, to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting, Washington, DC at http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/news2018/pdf/nanp180124mayors_conf.pdf
The Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to expand the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) again. This time, to build and operate an above ground storage facility to increase storage capacity by seven times and expand storage time to one year or more. Five acres would require fencing on WIPP’s southern side.
DOE argues that the storage pad is needed “to improve transuranic[, or TRU,] waste shipping throughout the DOE complex and the WIPP disposal process efficiency by adding the capability to temporarily store TRU mixed waste above ground in concrete overpack containers at the WIPP site.”
Currently DOE has five other expansion proposals. These include disposal of “surplus” plutonium from nuclear weapons; disposal of high-level waste from the Hanford and Savannah River sites; disposal of commercial “Greater Than Class C” radioactive waste; disposal of commercial waste from West Valley, New York; and the storage of elemental mercury.
Nevertheless, DOE recently proposed more expansion, including the installation of a fifth vertical shaft; expanding the underground footprint; and changing the waste calculation for disposed waste.
None of the historic legal documents about WIPP included a proposal to store such a huge volume of waste above ground. For instance, the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act stated the 16-square miles could be used for the “construction, experimentation, operation, repair and maintenance, disposal, shutdown, monitoring, decommissioning, and other authorized activities associated with the purposes of WIPP.” There was no provision for long-term, above-ground storage.
The proposal must be abandoned. In the alternative, a supplemental WIPP environmental impact statement is required.
DOE describes the operations as plutonium-contaminated radioactive and hazardous waste would be shipped to WIPP in the TRUPACT-II and HalfPACT shipping containers as it has been since March 26, 1999. The waste would then be transferred into one of 408 concrete overpack containers and stored on the storage pad for up to one year or longer, since it could stay on the surface. If approved, the expansion would result in an additional 65,280 cubic feet of waste stored above ground.
Don Hancock, of SRIC, said, “DOE should stop wasting taxpayer dollars on an illegal storage pad and other expansion ideas and focus on safe operations of the site.” http://www.sric.org/index.php
***The file is in PDF format. Simply click on the link, select and copy all the text and paste it into an email addressed to: WIPP.EA@WIPP.ws Then fill in your name at the end after the closing “Sincerely,”
At a public meeting on Wednesday, a legacy waste cleanup program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) resolved a long-time question: Does funding drive cleanup, or does cleanup priorities drive funding? Doug Hintze, a Department of Energy (DOE) manager in the LANL Environmental Management Program, admitted that funding drives cleanup.
After the admission, there were many questions about the funding mechanisms for LANL cleanup. Hintze explained DOE’s complicated three-year budget cycle. He explained that LANL will soon submit its 2020 proposed budget to DOE, while at the same time LANL is waiting to learn the amount of funding it will receive from Congress through a continuing resolution.
Wednesday’s meeting was held by the New Mexico Environment Department, as required by Section VIII of the 2016 Consent Order, which superseded the 2005 Consent Order for LANL cleanup. https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/June-2016-CO-modified-Feb-2017.pdf The DOE Environmental Management, Los Alamos Office, made two presentations to a crowd of approximately 50 at the new Los Alamos County Council Chambers.
Hintze presented information about the current cleanup budget of approximately $190 million. He explained that if a new well is needed to, for example, explore contamination, funding will be diverted from other priorities. As a result, the end date for the Consent Order would be extended beyond the 2035 deadline. EMLA LCC Update AppB Meeting 1_16_18
Arturo Duran, a LANL Compliance and Permitting Manager, also with the DOE Environmental Management Office, gave a detailed presentation about what work was completed during fiscal year 2017, a period between October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017. Duran 2016 Consent Order 1-16-18
Duran also presented the fiscal year 2018 cleanup work that has been prioritized by the Environment Department, DOE, and LANL, and the future work targeted for fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Seventeen campaigns have been identified in the 2016 Consent Order. See Appendix B “Milestones and Targets” to the Consent Order. https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/LANL-CO-APPENDIX-B-2018.pdf
For fiscal year 2018, the number one campaign is the chromium plume in the regional drinking water aquifer below Mortandad Canyon, which borders Pueblo de San Ildefonso. The number two priority is the RDX high explosive plume in the deep perched aquifer below Water Canyon, near the Bandelier National Monument. Other campaigns include the submittal of the annual ground water and soil and sediment reports to the Environment Department.
Staff from the new cleanup contractor, Newport News Nuclear BWXT – Los Alamos, LLC, were in the audience “to get the lay of the land.” They are putting together a public meeting in Los Alamos for early February to introduce themselves to the community. Upon learning about that meeting, CCNS’s Joni Arends suggested that they also set up meetings to introduce themselves in downwind and downstream communities, such as Taos, Española, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
After the Environment Department issued the permit, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD), the Water Information Network, Conservative Use of Resources and the Environment (CURE), and two individuals filed the complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights.
They alleged discrimination under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Further, they alleged that in permitting Triassic Park, the Department “failed to require or perform a scientific investigation into possible disparate impacts; failed to ensure that limited-English proficient Spanish speaking residents were provided a meaningful opportunity for effective public participation in the permitting process;” and that there is a “statewide pattern and practice of similar discrimination in permitting” and in public participation processes throughout New Mexico.
Triassic Park is a proposed hazardous waste dump located east of Roswell.
The Department has implemented some provisions of the Informal Resolution Agreement. Nevertheless, since signing the Agreement, it has proceeded with over 200 public processes without meeting the public participation requirements.
For example, the Department agreed to create a plan that would be implemented each and every time a public participation process is triggered. The Agreement requires the Department to create detailed and comprehensive plans for action and outreach to address a potentially impacted community’s needs and concerns; and to describe the community, including its background, history, and demographics. It requires the Department to create outreach materials, including contact lists of agency officials and local media so that the public may communicate directly with them; a contingency plan for unexpected events; and a list of places where public meetings may be held. Further, a list of providers for limited-English proficient persons to utilize for translation of documents and to serve as interpreters at meetings; and a physical location where regulatory documents are readily available for review must be provided.
Other uncompleted plans include providing access to the public participation process for persons with limited-English proficiency and those with disabilities, and a plan to train all Environment Department personnel in non-discrimination.
The delays in creating these plans is felt by communities threatened with polluting facilities, such as, the draft ground water discharge permit for Waste Control Specialists, Inc. The draft permit requires WCS, a limited liability corporation, to monitor the potential discharge into New Mexico from a theoretical maximum of 170,500,000-gallons per day from a 100-year storm from the 14,900-acre radioactive and hazardous waste storage and disposal facility located just over the border in Texas. WCS operations span the Texas-New Mexico border. The state line is five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico.
Similar to the Triassic Park permitting process, the potentially impacted communities are located southeastern New Mexico, where Spanish is the dominant language. Only the public notice that a draft permit is available for review and comment has been translated into Spanish.
The fourth draft permit was released in November, with public comments due before midnight on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 to Steve.Pullen@state.nm.us. Even so, key documents that were submitted by the public and WCS have not been entered into the index. The last entries were made nearly a year ago.
The Environment Department is urged, yet again, to stop this comment period until the required plans under the Informal Resolution Agreement have been finalized and all requirements have been met.
Raising concerns about a permit that would allow 350,000 gallons per day of treated chromium plume water to be land applied in or near the floodplains of Mortandad Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the Communities for Clean Water formally requested three times that a public hearing be held. Despite their requests to the New Mexico Environment Department for a public hearing to present testimony about alternative uses of the water and other issues, the Environment Department Secretary, Ryan Flynn, denied the requests.
In 2015, the Communities for Clean Water (CCW) appealed Flynn’s decision to the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission. The Commission is a state body with members from the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission, and a broad range of departments, such as Health, Game and Fish, and Agriculture. Generally, the Environment Department Secretary serves as commission chair. https://www.env.nm.gov/water-quality-control-commission/wqcc/Ultimately, the Commission agreed with Flynn’s decision to deny CCW a public hearing. CCW appealed the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
Last week the Court of Appeals issued its decision and agreed with CCW that a public hearing should be held. The Court faulted the Commission for acting “arbitrarily and capriciously” in deciding that CCW’s request did not represent “a substantial public interest.” In fact, the Court stressed that CCW had repeatedly laid out its case for a public hearing and both LANL and the Environment Department had indicated the importance of the permit. CCW v. WQCC A-1-CA-35253 Opinion 12-27-17
Jaimie Park, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, represented CCW before the Commission and the Court of Appeals. http://nmelc.org/
CCW formally came together in 2006. It is a coalition of six organizations comprised of Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, the New Mexico Acequia Association, the Partnership for Earth Spirituality, and Tewa Women United. CCW brings together the separate organizations to have a collective and powerful impact to protect and restore water quality downstream and downwind of LANL. http://ccwnewmexico.org/
Kathy Sanchez, Founder and Program Manager for Environmental Health and Justice at Tewa Women United, said, “As a Native woman trying to make sense of these procedures, the time and resources it takes can be overwhelming. I’m delighted that the Court of Appeals sees the need for local communities that are highly impacted by toxic pollutants to have an opportunity to present their local expertise. We’ve waited a long time to have a hearing that can hold the Lab and the Environment Department accountable.”
On Tuesday, January 9th, the Water Quality Control Commission will meet in a closed executive session to discuss the court’s decision and next steps.WQCC draft 1-9-18 Agenda
When Holtec International prepared its application for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license to construct and operate a surface storage facility for high-level radioactive waste in southeastern New Mexico, it had a model to use. That model was the license application submitted by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) a year earlier to construct and operate a similar facility at its low-level radioactive and hazardous materials waste dump on the New Mexico – Texas border, five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico. In addition, Holtec had the NRC’s request to WCS for supplemental information about their inadequate license application. Even so, in October, in response to NRC’s request for supplemental information about its likewise inadequate application, Holtec submitted more than 2,400 pages that were recently posted to the NRC’s website. https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1731/ML17310A218.html Holtec is submitting additional information.
The NRC raised many of the same concerns for both applications. WCS asked the NRC to put its application on hold because of opposition and possible bankruptcy. NRC likely will accept the Holtec application, at which time there will be at least one public meeting.
In New Mexico, Holtec proposes a surface facility, located on 1,000 acres halfway between Hobbs and Carlsbad, for all of the U.S. commercial spent fuel.
The license application process is proscriptive and the applicants must meet not only the NRC’s regulations, but also federal regulations for nuclear facilities. The requirements include safe construction and operation; environmental protections; worker and public health protections; a radiation protection program; limits on worker exposure; transportation; procedures for taking samples of the waste containers to make sure they did not leak during transport; prevention of releases to water, air, and soil; responses to accidents and fires; and closure of the facility when it may be filled.
Nevertheless, Holtec’s original application omitted key information, including the gas, oil, and potash extraction activities in the area, the resulting subsidence, and the hazards associated with a nearby oil recovery facility. Holtec also omitted a hazard assessment about military, commercial and civilian air traffic above the site, including flights carrying hazardous cargo; assessment of corrosion of natural gas pipelines and potential explosions on and surrounding the site; and fully documenting nearby water bodies – streams, playa lakes and ephemeral drainages. Holtec did not include key figures and diagrams showing the site location; surface features; natural gas pipelines; and the maximum flood water level from a 7 1/2-inch monsoon.
Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, called the WCS and Holtec applications “sloppy.” He added, “The waste should stay at or near the reactors. The WCS and Holtec sites are unnecessary, dangerous, and costly. People should strongly oppose them.” http://www.sric.org/
To see what “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are in action you should have attended the High-Level Radioactive Waste Summit on December 9, 2017 in Roswell, organized by the Alliance for Environmental Strategies and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, or SEED Coalition.
Eddy and Lea Counties in New Mexico and Andrews County in Texas are targeted for storage of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear reactor waste for forty years or more, which could lead to dangerous de facto permanent dumps. Importing high-level radioactive waste to New Mexico and Texas would put millions of people at risk for financial and health impacts from potential accidents or incidents on rail, barges and/or highways.
In New Mexico, Holtec International proposes a consolidated interim storage facility, located on 1,000 acres halfway between Hobbs and Carlsbad. In Texas, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) proposes the same for its existing low-level radioactive and hazardous waste dump on the Texas – New Mexico border, five miles east of Eunice.
Both entities have submitted license applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The WCS application has been put on hold due to litigation and possible bankruptcy. The Holtec application is under review. Once the NRC accepts it, the agency will hold at least one public meeting.
The Alliance for Environmental Strategies, based in Artesia, opposes plans to store and/or dispose of all of the commercial high-level radioactive waste in either southeastern New Mexico or west Texas. The Summit included discussions about the upcoming NRC public meetings and various ways to oppose the dumps.
Forty people, representing 22 groups, attended the Summit. New Mexico attendees were from Roswell, Artesia, Eunice, Hobbs, Nara Visa, Pueblo of Acoma, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. UNM students in Eileen Shaughnessy’s Nuclear New Mexico course, as well as students from the Nuclear Issues Study Group that organized the recent three-day Dismantling the Nuclear Beast Symposium, attended. Out of state attendees were from Fort Worth, Austin, and Tacoma Park, Maryland.
Rose Gardner, of Eunice, has been opposing nuclear and radioactive industry projects since 2003. She began by opposing the uranium enrichment facility in Eunice.
The tax giveaways and an $1.5 billion industrial revenue bond caused regional economic problems that have not been solved. Eunice was required to pay the unpaid gross receipt taxes back to New Mexico, which impacted jobs in public service and education.
Gardner is also concerned about the transportation of high-level radioactive waste. She said, “My family is driving up these roads every day. To me, it is a danger to the entire area.”
Ed and Patty Hughs, of Nara Visa, gave a presentation about how their community came together earlier this year to successfully stop the Department of Energy’s plans to drill exploratory boreholes for radioactive waste.
Activists involved in similar fights highlighted the proposed facilities that were stopped by community action. These include Ward Valley in California, Sierra Blanca in Texas, Skull Valley in Utah, and Mescalero Apache in New Mexico.
Kay Matthews, editor and writer for La Jicarita, an online magazine of environmental politics in New Mexico, reported on the excellent Dismantling the Nuclear Beast Symposium, held from December 1st through 3rd at the University of New Mexico campus. Her article is provided below:
Dismantling the Nuclear Beast
By KAY MATTHEWS
To see what “diversity” and “multiculturalism” are in action you should have attended the “Dismantling the Nuclear Beast Symposium” at the University of New Mexico last weekend. When I walked into the conference room on Saturday the attendees introducing themselves ranged from the Navajo Nation, Jemez Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Alaska, Utah, Arizona, Española, California, Tularosa, Albuquerque, White Mountain (Ute Mountain Utes), Santa Clara Pueblo, Isleta Pueblo, and Taos. They represent organizations that are fighting to dismantle the nuclear beast from uranium mining and enrichment to weapons production and nuclear waste storage: The Nuclear Issues Study Group; Diné No Nukes; Citizen Action New Mexico; Laguna/Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment; Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety; Nuclear Watch New Mexico; Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment; Tewa Women United; Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium; Alliance for Environmental Strategies; Haul No!; and Southwest Research and Information Center.
The mining and milling of uranium has hit New Mexico particularly hard. Along what is referred to as the Grants mineral belt and on the Navajo Reservation are the remnants of underground such as La Jara Mesa, Roca Honda Mine, Mount Taylor Mine, Marquez Canyon Mine, four proposed surface mines in the Churchrock/Crown Point area, and 13 abandoned mines within a five mile radius of Churchrock. The open pit Jackpile Mine at Paguate, on Laguna Pueblo, sends radioactive dust into the air, and the former mill sites of Ambrosia Lake, Kerrmac, and Homestake near Milan have contaminated the groundwater and plumes are heading towards Grants and Bluewater. On July 16, 1979, 14 weeks after the Three Mile Island radiation release, the Church Rock uranium mill tailings disposal pond breached its dam and 1,100 tons of radioactive mill waste and approximately 93 million gallons of mine effluent flowed into the Rio Puerco, through the town of Gallup, and into Arizona. The contaminated water left residues of radioactive uranium, thorium, radium, and polonium, as well as traces of metals such as cadmium, aluminum, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, sodium, vanadium, zinc, iron, lead and high concentrations of sulfates.
A precipitous drop in uranium prices in the 1980s squelched the mining and milling boom that created this development, but the panelists at the Saturday morning symposium are still dealing with its residue and anticipating its possible rebirth if the price of uranium once again increases. Klee Benally, a Diné activist who lives in Flagstaff, told the audience that 10 million people live in close proximity to abandoned uranium mines that have yet to be cleaned up; 3,272 of those mines are located in five western states. Because uranium is classified a “hard rock” mineral, it falls under the auspices of the 1872 General Mining Act that allows mining companies to avoid responsibility for clean-up (several bills to reform the Mining Act were introduced in the 2000s but were defeated by the mining lobby).
Chris Shuey of the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) explained that the Superfund program is the only law with oversight over these clean-up sites and it’s sorely inadequate; only the Environmental Protection Agency and the corporations responsible for the contamination have a seat at the table to determine the clean-up operation. The billion dollars that has been spent on settlement negotiations has addressed only 40 percent of identified mines.
Yolanda Badback, of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe of Utah, lives in a community called White Mesa that lies five miles north of the White Mesa uranium mill, the only conventional uranium mill operating in the United States today. While the mill is currently undergoing a licensing renewal, there are plans to ship clean-up waste from mines and mills that are no longer in operation to the White Mesa mill. Badback wants the mine closed: her community has to drink bottled water because of aquifer contamination.
. . . . .
The afternoon panel consisted of activists who are engaged in the second phase of the nuclear beast: the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear waste storage. Beata Tsosie-Peña and Kathy Sanchez of Tewa Women United spoke about the impacts of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which sits on the Pajarito Plateau directly above their pueblos, on the environment, on their cultural connections, their art, and their personal lives. Myrriah Gomez, who is a UNM professor in the Honors College, spoke of her grandparents, who were part of the homesteaders community on the Pajarito Plateau forcibly removed when the Army took over the area to establish the Lab during World War II. Born and raised in El Rancho, where her family relocated, Gomez now works with both Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), and the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.
These two groups are led by powerful New Mexico women, Joni Arends and Tina Córdova. Córdova, born and raised in the small Hispano village of Tularosa, founded the Consortium in 2005 to force the U.S. government to acknowledge the impact on downwinders of the first nuclear blast test detonation at the Trinity Site near Tularosa in 1945. These “unknowing, unwilling, uncompensated, innocent victims” have suffered debilitating health defects from the radioactivity released during the bomb test. Her group has been pushing for a bill in Congress to include the Tularosa Downwinders in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) that covers uranium miners and workers exposed to atmospheric nuclear testing (according to Córdova, $2 billion has thus far been paid in compensation). The bill has been held up in Congress for seven years, and a recent hearing on the bill was postponed.
. . . . .
Joni Arends has been demanding accountability at LANL for 30 years as an opponent of the Waste Isolation Pilot Program and director of CCNS. More than 21 million cubic feet of toxic waste has been buried at LANL since 1943. Joni has done the due diligence necessary to monitor the Lab’s adherence to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that deals with the disposal of hazardous waste at LANL. Numerous violations have occurred over the years: monitoring wells designed to measure underground contamination were inadequately designed and built; chromium plumes extend from the Lab’s boundaries towards the Rio Grande. Since 2010 Joni has been working with Tina Córdova and the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium to prepare a Health Impact Assessment on the downwinders.
While the moderators of the symposium, Leona Morgan (Diné) and Eileen Shaughnessy (UNM professor), co-founders of the Nuclear Issues Study Group, stressed throughout the day that the gathering was not only a report on the history of the nuclear industry and the battles currently being waged to dismantle it, but also a pledge of resistance with innovative ideas on how to proceed. But the last panelist on Saturday’s schedule, Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, acknowledged the difficulties of this fight in his discussion of current political realities. LANL currently spends $1.7 billion dollars a year on nuclear weapons production; Sandia Laboratory in Albuquerque spends $1.8 billion. Kirtland Air Force Base stores 2,500 warheads on the outskirts of Albuquerque. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages all things nuclear under the Department of Energy, has requested a $10.2 billion budge for 2018. Our congressional delegation continues to support pit production (the plutonium core of a nuclear weapon) at LANL, development of the so-called smart weapons, the stockpile stewardship program—in other words, all things nuclear. In the meantime, poverty listings by state (including Washington D.C.) rank New anywhere from 47th to 51st.
. . . . .
Politically, our resistance has to debunk their rationale that these nuclear industries are the engines that drive the economy of New Mexico; all nuclear conductors should be fired and replaced with alternative energy drivers. A billion dollars spent on clean-up at both Labs and at Kirtland could provide thousands of jobs and perhaps save us from the chromium plume headed towards the Rio Grande, contamination from Sandia’s mixed waste landfill, and Kirtland’s jet fuel plume flowing beneath the streets of Albuquerque.
Signing the U.N Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be a huge step towards this goal. The indigenous people of the world, those who “have been most negatively impacted by nuclear colonialism,” are taking a leading role
in the work necessary to dismantle this nuclear beast. They are the resistance.
Wherever the Yellow X is seen it will convey the message nuclear weapons are illegal.
When Silence Is Not An Option
Will a nuclear weapons ban make the world safer?
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TO SUPPORT THE TULAROSA BASIN DOWNWINDERS CONSORTIUM ON RECA AMENDMENTS
Please contact the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Minority Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and ask them to set the date for the RECA Oversight Hearing. Knowing the September hearing date will allow us to properly prepare for the hearing. The hearing will be televised on C-SPAN and on the Judiciary Committee’s website.