DOE and LANL Present their Risk-Based Cleanup Plan

* The Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) held a meeting this week to discuss the draft Risk-based End-states (RBES) vision document, which outlines their future cleanup plans for LANL. According to the RBES, LANL and DOE would clean up LANL property to a level established according to the estimated future land use and the risk that would be associated with that use.

In the document, DOE establishes that future land use may be commercial, industrial or manufacturing, open space or residential. DOE defines risk as the threat posed to human health according to the contaminants in the area, the levels or concentrations of those contaminants and the duration and amount of exposure to humans.

According to David Gregory, DOE's project director at LANL, DOE proposes to use this definition to determine "what contamination would be permissible to leave in the ground." Gregory says that the RBES is akin to establishing speed limits on the highway according to the amount of traffic or activity in the area. Gregory says, "The goal is to be very conservative, yet very responsible."

DOEšs plan indicates that many of the mesa tops, including those with radioactive waste dumps, would be cleaned to industrial standards. This may allow LANL to cover and abandon thousands of cubic meters of waste buried in the Rio Grande watershed. Many canyon bottoms would be cleaned to recreational standards, which assumes that people will never take residence in the area.

DOE compares the RBES to LANL's cleanup of the South Fork of Acid Canyon in 2001 when, under state and public pressure, LANL cleaned a portion of Acid Canyon that had been transferred to Los Alamos County many years ago. Acid Canyon is located between the Los Alamos municipal swimming pool and skateboard park and is an area frequented by recreational users. LANL attempted to clean up the canyon to a level determined by land use.

Activists disagree that Acid Canyon has been sufficiently remediated, however, considering that LANL left contamination levels in the canyon that are more than four times higher those that have been approved for the cleanup of Rocky Flats in Colorado.

Furthermore, Rocky Flats is currently undergoing cleanup according to DOE's accelerated cleanup program, which is the predecessor to RBES. DOE has decided to remediate only the top three feet of contaminated soil at Rocky Flats, abandoning thousands of feet of contaminated pipe and other underground mechanisms that erosion will eventually expose, requiring further cleanup in the future. Joni Arends, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "Rocky Flats is an example of DOE's risk-based negligence. Their unacceptable cleanup levels ensure that contamination at Rocky Flats will continue to be a problem well into the future."

Arends says that RBES will present the same problem for LANL. She argues that DOE cannot accurately predict the future land use of the LANL area unless they assume that LANL will operate indefinitely. Arends said, "We need to protect the land now rather than leave this burden to future generations."

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