LANL Cleanup Order Finalized

* After nearly three years of negotiation, the Order on Consent from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was finalized recently. The order was signed in the New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda by Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, on behalf of Governor Bill Richardson, New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, NMED Secretary Ron Curry, representatives from the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL director Pete Nanos, for the University of California (UC).

The negotiations of the order began following several lawsuits filed against NMED by DOE and UC. The lawsuits were a response to NMED's finding that, "past or present storage, treatment or disposal of hazardous and solid waste at the facility may result in an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment."

The order provides a framework and schedule for LANL to investigate and clean up contamination sources across the complex. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015. DOE estimates that it will cost $800 million.

NMED Secretary Ron Curry said, "After many years of tough negotiations, this legal order puts New Mexicans in control of LANL clean up and gives us the power to make sure this important work is completed."

Although the order was only finalized recently, DOE says that LANL has been acting as though it were already in effect by delivering preliminary investigations of contamination according to the schedules established by the order. This information will be available for public review on the NMED website. Ed Wilmot, of DOE, said that he is personally committed to ensuring that this process remains open and transparent and that DOE will make good on their responsibilities under the order.

However, if LANL should fail to achieve the goals established in the order, NMED has the power to fine them anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per day. Attorney General Madrid said, "I wanted to ensure that under this agreement the state is still free to pursue any remedies for natural resource damages that may have occurred."

Director Nanos said that LANL has already taken strides toward reducing environmental emissions. For example, he claimed that they have reduced hazardous waste production by 93% and low-level radioactive waste production by 60%.

Activists are pleased that the order is completed, but will remain vigilant in monitoring the adequacy of LANL's cleanup plans and the progress of future cleanup. Curry agreed that this role is critical, saying, "Oversight is important for this type of agreement to be successful."

Such cleanup at other weapons sites has been contentious due to lack of public oversight. For example, at Rocky Flats, many of the negotiations regarding cleanup were performed outside of the public's purview. Consequently, cleanup costs were capped resulting in less cleanup and the level of cleanup was unacceptable to many community members.

LeRoy Moore, of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, recently wrote, "[DOE] should work closely with affected communities and forge a genuine commitment to the long-term health and safety of every person who may ever live near or use its former nuclear weapon sites...."

Back to News Index