Growing Concerns about Inadequate Cleanup Funding for LANL

April 18, 2008

The Inspector General of the Department of Energy (DOE) released a report this week about delays in meeting deadlines outlined in the cleanup order with the New Mexico Environment Department for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). DOE, LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department signed the cleanup order, also known as the Consent Order, in March 2005.

The report focuses on delays in meeting cleanup deadlines for Material Disposal Areas G and L at Technical Area 54. These are old waste sites that contain buried waste as well as waste stored above ground. It is important not to confuse these sites with the currently operating waste dump for low-level waste at Area G, also located at Technical Area 54.

The Inspector General reported that 58 structures at Material Disposal Area G and six structures at Material Disposal Area L must be decontaminated and decommissioned before any waste buried below the structures may be retrieved.

One of the biggest surprises in the report was that DOE did not certify the documents necessary to support its funding requests to Congress until last November, even though the Consent Order has been in place for over three years. Further, the projected cleanup costs do not include $947 million for what is termed "unfunded" contingencies.

In response, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici said that he will "continue the difficult task of trying to direct more environmental cleanup funding to the cleanup process at Los Alamos."

Public concern is increasing about the inconsistencies between the DOE proposal to expand the LANL capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons while there are difficulties in obtaining funding for cleanup, remediation and restoration activities.

There is a growing grassroots movement asking for congressional Senate and House hearings to be held in Espanola, New Mexico about a myriad of issues. These include:

* the need for a two-year review of the Los Alamos National Security (LANS) contract, especially in light of past and proposed job layoffs when top managers are receiving bonuses;

* on-going safety and security violations;

* the inequities in emergency preparedness capabilities between LANL and surrounding communities;

* outstanding seismic issues and the on-going construction of the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Building without adequate seismic protections;

* the grossly under-reported historic radiation emissions as documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

* the on-going open burning and open detonation of high explosives and depleted uranium in a wildfire zone during the spring winds;

* the uncertainty about the extent and direction of the chromium plume in the regional aquifer, which was first discovered in January 2004; and

* the inadequate monitoring systems for detecting LANL contaminants in surface and ground water.

Gilbert Sanchez, of Tewa Environmental Watch Alliance, based at San Ildefonso Pueblo, said, "Congress needs to hear from the impacted communities about what is happening at the national laboratory and listen to both the positive and negative. We need to address the impacts of past, present and future operations, with a special emphasis on human health effects."

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