* Los Alamos County Administrator Max Baker sent a letter to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) voicing the concerns of the county regarding LANL plans to expand the low-level nuclear waste disposal site at Area G in Technical Area 54 (TA-54). Mr. Baker also responded to LANL's recent announcement that it had underestimated the volume of waste from the clean up of a Manhattan Project laundry facility. LANL estimated that there would 50 cubic yards, but in actuality there were 1,000.
In the letter, he said, "I understand that [the Department of Energy (DOE)] believes the expansion is necessary because the amount of waste that was to be handled by the ongoing environmental restoration project was underestimated and consequently costs have increased beyond available funds. As you know, Los Alamos County has been and continues to be impacted by the disposal of waste generated by LANL operations and undoubtedly the waste buried now will someday need to be removed so longer term costs need to be considered."
Low-level waste is currently buried in nearly 40 permanent waste pits at Area G. There are also 40,000 drums of transuranic waste stored aboveground to be transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad. LANL disposes of the waste at Area G in unlined pits, trenches and shafts. The disposal site opened in 1957 and was used for all types of radioactive and hazardous waste. The older waste, which remains in these unlined disposal areas, was undocumented when buried but likely includes plutonium and other hazardous chemicals. After 1980 only low-level radioactive waste could be added to Area G.
Last year, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry said, "Area G's known environmental impacts, its location and its lack of sufficient environmental safeguards make it a huge environmental liability for LANL and the surrounding area."
The site poses a serious threat to surface and ground water. LANL overlies a public drinking water aquifer, and TA-54 consists of fractured porous rock, which would easily allow contaminants to leach into the water. TA-54 is surrounded by springs, streams and flood plains. The waste dump is also located upstream from surface water that will be utilized as a public drinking water source.
Despite community concerns, LANL is moving forward with plans to expand its low-level nuclear waste dump at Area G. LANL proposes to expand the disposal area by 30 acres, as was outlined in the 1999 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for LANL Operations. The expansion would allow LANL to continue to dispose of low-level radioactive waste at Area G for another 40 to 60 years. LANL expects to have the disposal pit operational in the fall of 2006.
The Northern New Mexico Citizens' Advisory Board recently recommended that the current dump not be expanded. The board, which advises the DOE on LANL environmental issues, wrote in its recommendations that LANL should "stop burying radioactive wastes and invest instead in developing waste management, waste reduction, waste recycling and hazardous and radioactive waste purification technologies that will support the broader goal of true 'zero discharge' from LANL."