LANL Plans to Release Twice the Amount of Tritium Allowed

The Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) plan to vent radioactive tritium into the air in an amount twice the federal standard of 10 millirems a year.  LANL estimates a possible offsite dose to the public of 20.2 millirems a year based on a release of over 100,000 curies of radiation.  LANL claims there is hydrogen, oxygen, and tritium gases in four 35-gallon stainless steel containers, called Flanged Tritium Waste Containers, that require venting to prevent a possible explosion.   The containers are stored in a prefabricated steel shed located at the Area G dump. The containers were filled in 2007 and have been safely stored there ever since.

In 2019, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a 2018 LANL plan under the Clean Air Act.  This month, the New Mexico Environment Department approved the plan under the state’s Hazardous Waste Act because there are lead tools present in the containers.  But there are inconsistencies between the two plans.

For instance, the earlier Clean Air Act plan proposed using “getters” to capture a portion of the vented tritium before it is released through an open door in the prefabricated shed.  The later plan deleted the use of a “getter bed” and replaced it with an unnamed air emissions control system.  Nevertheless, the Hazardous Waste Act plan states the gases will pass through a molecular sieve bed and through a metering value before release.

New Mexicans are concerned about the proposed venting.  Tritium is radioactive hydrogen and is highly mobile moving from air to water and back.  It can cross the placenta and affect a developing fetus.  The 10 millirem standard is based on a 154-pound, five feet 6 inch, Anglo “reference man,” between the ages of 20 to 30, who consumes a European diet.

Beata Tsosie, a Community Doula and Gardener, from Santa Clara Pueblo, said, “As a Pueblo woman living downwind and downstream from Los Alamos nuclear weapons production, I am very concerned about the lab’s intentions to go forward with releasing radioactive tritium vapor into our air, land, waters, and ecosystems.  During mid April is when our land-based community is outdoors for longer periods of time preparing their fields and gardens for planting.  What will it mean to also have cumulative exposure when we consume these crops?  There are also increased exposures due to active foraging of wild plants, gathering of clays, fishing, hunting, and ceremony.

“Our children are also outdoors for longer periods of time due to the school shutdown for COVID-19, which is scheduled to go on indefinitely.  I watch my son playing in his backyard, making his own gardens, running, getting out of breath and breathing deeply the air that I need to know is safe for him to be exposed to.  We live 20 minutes away from these planned releases, and now in addition to an already stressful self-quarantine I need to worry about my family being outside enjoying their birthright.

Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal

“It is my understanding that in the documents submitted to the EPA and NMED in 2018, there is no inclusion of alternatives to these releases.  There should not be a rush to put our communities in harms way when all solutions have not even been discussed.  I know that the federal standards for tritium exposure are not protective of land-based people of color, or pregnant families and infants who are more vulnerable to radioactive toxicity.  Tritium can cross placental boundaries.  These standards of exposure are still based on an obsolete model of an adult, white male of European descent and custom.

“There must be an informed public process that prioritizes protecting those most vulnerable.  I do not consent to these toxic releases in my ancestral homelands; it is the continuation of nuclear colonialism and violence on Indigenous lands and bodies and a sorrowful history of environmental racism in our sacred Jemez Plateau.  I call on all of our Congressional delegation, EPA and NMED directors to put an immediate halt and suspension to these planned tritium releases and increase in LANL production.  Our communities deserve reprieve, health, calm, and wellness in these challenging times.”

Given the cumulative health consequences from the proposed venting, organizations and individuals are requesting the Environment Department hold a  public comment period and a public hearing.

  1. We hope everyone is safe and staying home.  CCNS continues to work to expose the proposals the nuclear industry is trying to push during this time of distraction during the pandemic.  Please support CCNS financially as we continue our oversight.  Thank you.  
  2. The Trinity Site Open House is canceled for Saturday, April 4th.

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