LANL Proposes to Expand Area G

* At a forum hosted by the Northern New Mexico Citizens' Advisory Board recently, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) announced that it intends to expand the radioactive waste disposal Area G by nearly 50%.

LANL proposes to expand the disposal area from 63 to 93 acres, as was outlined in the 1999 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for LANL operations. LANL estimates that the expansion will allow them to continue to dispose of low-level radioactive waste at Area G until 2044. Expansion may begin by October.

Area G opened in 1957 and until 1980 was used to store all types of radioactive and hazardous waste. In 1980 it became strictly a low-level radioactive waste disposal area, although it also stores 40,000 drums of transuranic waste aboveground to be transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad.

In a prepared statement, New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) 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."

Secretary Curry also stated that he hoped that the forum would enable open communication about Area G and its environmental impacts. Curry said, "This is a time of a great deal of uncertainty for LANL and its community. During these uncertain times, I believe public transparency only gets more important."

The forum featured panelists with a variety of perspectives on Area G, including LANL, the Department of Energy, NMED, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pueblo of San Ildefonso and community organizations. The extent of environmental contamination at Area G was one of the primary issues addressed at the forum. Many of the panelists expressed concern about the level and type of contamination that Area G may be contributing to the air, water and soil in the region. James Bearzi, of NMED, said, "The very presence of Area G contaminates the environment."

More specifically, Bearzi noted that there is a plume of volatile organic compounds beneath Area G, the extent of which is unknown. Further, there are unknown levels of tritium contamination beneath the site.

These contaminants prompted Joni Arends, a panelist representing Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, to recommend that LANL stop burying waste in unlined pits, trenches and shafts at Area G.

Bearzi said that based on the level of contamination at Area G, closure of the site may include anything from long-term monitoring to removing the buried waste entirely. The current Area G is scheduled to be closed in 2015 according to the forthcoming NMED permit under the state's hazardous waste act. However, that permit will not account for closure of any of the expanded area.

Approximately 150 community members attended the forum in order to voice their recommendations about the continuing production of waste at LANL and its disposal at Area G. Betsy Millard, of Santa Fe, recommended that LANL be a good neighbor and "make [Area G] safe and secure for all Northern New Mexico."

The forum will be broadcast on public access television in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. For more information, contact 989-1662.

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