DOE and UC Request Cancellation of Open Burning Permits at LANL
The Department of Energy (DOE) and the University of California (UC)
recently requested cancellation of two air permits to perform the open
burning of depleted uranium, high explosives, diesel fuel, wood and other
materials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) from the New Mexico
Environment Department (NMED). The permits were issued by the NMED Air
Quality Bureau last March, but were appealed to the Environmental
Improvement Board (EIB).
The cancelled air permits allowed LANL to conduct a maximum of 383 open
burning activities each year, containing a total amount of 1,584 pounds of
depleted uranium (DU), 3,717 pounds of high explosives (HE), 800 gallons of
diesel fuel, 91,000 pounds of wood and other assorted materials, including
Plexiglas, Lexan and natural and synthetic rubber.
LANL has been conducting open burning and open detonation of these types of
materials in canyon bottoms and on mesa tops since they first began
operations in 1943. Some of these activities involve experiments; others
involve treating contaminated waste that cannot be moved due to danger of
Over the years, the federal and state governments have permitted these
activities. However, in June 2004, the state prohibited the open burning of
trash in burn barrels because of the amount of hazardous materials that are
released, sometimes more than from a licensed municipal incinerator. Under
these regulatory changes, LANL was required to submit to a permitting
process that provided an opportunity for public participation.
Three citizen groups, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Tewa
Women United and the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, became
involved in the permitting process. The groups then appealed the permits to
the EIB. They also led a public postcard campaign against the permits.
Concerned members of the public sent in over 700 postcards to Governor
Richardson, Senator Bingaman, Representative Udall and NMED Secretary Ron
In November 2005, DOE and UC filed two motions to dismiss the appeal of the
citizen groups. In early January, the EIB ruled in favor of the groups and
the appeal was scheduled for a March 7th hearing in Espanola, New Mexico.
The hearing may not be necessary because as LANL stated in their request,
"[i]f, in the future, the Laboratory determines that activities at these
sites are necessary, the Laboratory will apply to [NMED] for the appropriate
approvals before such activities are initiated."
Activists are pleased that LANL has made what appears to be an
environmentally responsible decision. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "This is
a great victory for New Mexicans. We would like to thank all the
individuals and businesses that participated in the postcard campaign. And
we would also like to thank the decisionmakers for their commitment to
public health and the environment."
However, activists are still concerned about the existing conditions of the
test sites and the legacy of past experiments. Sheri Kotowski, of the Embudo
Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, said, "Now we have to move forward
and monitor the sites. We still need to determine what type of contamination
is present and determine the appropriate methods for cleanup."