NAS Finds Problems with LANL Groundwater Protection Program

NAS Finds Problems with LANL Groundwater Protection Program

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that the groundwater protection program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was "compromised in [its] ability to produce water samples that are representative of ambient groundwater for the purpose of monitoring." Radioactive and other toxic contaminants have been detected in the groundwater beneath the LANL site. The NAS stated that "many, if not all" of the wells drilled into the regional aquifer do not meet the legal requirements. Without a credible groundwater protection program, there is no way to accurately know the location or concentration of these contaminants. The report acknowledged that this contamination is particularly significant because of the scarce regional water resources.

The NAS is a private, non-profit institution that is dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and their use for the general welfare. Their report, entitled, "Plans and Practices for Groundwater Protection at the Los Alamos National Laboratory," is the result of an 18-month study.

Contaminants that have been detected in groundwater beneath LANL include hexavalent chromium, perchlorate and high explosives, as well as radioactive tritium, plutonium, cesium, strontium, and possibly neptunium. Drinking water for Los Alamos County, White Rock and the County and City of Santa Fe is pumped from wells along the pathway for LANL contaminants. These contaminants also have been found in the streams and springs which feed the Rio Grande.

Registered Geologist and former lead consultant for LANL's groundwater protection program, Robert H. Gilkeson, said, "Citizens of New Mexico are faced with an emerging environmental emergency because LANL scientists failed to install a reliable network of wells even though over $100 million was spent for this purpose. Practically all of the new wells drilled over the past ten years have properties to mask the detection of the majority of contaminants produced from nuclear weapons research and manufacture of plutonium pits."

The NAS report supports many of the concerns raised by Gilkeson and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), a Santa Fe based non-profit organization, during the NAS study. Gilkeson received the 2007 Whistleblower Award from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a national network of grassroots organizations, for his work in bringing the LANL groundwater issues to light.

In addition to the NAS study, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy Inspector General have both released studies that support Gilkeson's work.

Sue Stiger, LANL's associate director for environmental programs, said in a statement that LANL was pleased to receive the evaluation from the NAS, "a well-respected, outside, independent source."

In order to protect drinking water supplies, CCNS and Gilkeson recommend monthly samples of all drinking water wells using the most sensitive methods for contaminant detection, the installation of new wells and an independent review of all LANL water data.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "The NAS study confirms the well-documented knowledge that LANL has little or no information about the contaminant plumes. Everyone is talking about diversifying LANL's mission, but the NAS report confirms that the priority needs to be cleanup. We must protect our drinking water supplies."

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