LANL Secrecy Stalls CDC Dose Reconstruction Project

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment project is threatened due to security issues at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The assessment is the first step toward determining whether a complete dose reconstruction of LANL is necessary. CDC says that LANL has limited or denied access to documents due to extensive bureaucracy and increased post-September 11 security. Many of these documents are necessary to adequately evaluate off-site radioactive releases from LANL.

CDC's findings thus far indicate that plutonium levels in soil surrounding LANL may be hundreds of times higher than originally estimated by LANL. Also, initial evaluation by CDC indicates that plutonium levels in human tissue collected from non-LANL employees around the facility may be higher than anticipated.

Workers and citizen advocates are concerned that, although preliminary findings may merit a complete dose reconstruction of the LANL site, the project may never be complete. A dose reconstruction is a process by which it is determined through historical radiation releases, precisely the amount of radiation to which a typical off-site resident may have been exposed. LANL is the only Department of Energy (DOE) facility that has not had a complete dose reconstruction.

CDC claims that LANL was reserved as the final site because they were unsure of the length of time it would take to review its historical documents, which comprise millions of pages dating back to the Manhattan Project. Indeed, it has taken CDC four years, and $4.2 million, to complete only half of its review. The current budget for the project is nearly extinguished. However, CDC claims that they are dedicated to securing more funding for the project. Charles Miller, of CDC, said, "CDC wants a final product out of this project that has scientific credibility and credibility with the public. If we can't do that, then we're wasting taxpayers' money."

However, CDC says that they are judging whether to request more funding considering LANL's non-cooperation thus far. For example, LANL has several categories of documents that are classified, requires prescreening of documents by those who produced them, has denied CDC unescorted access to document archives, and has no established process by which to appeal when records are withheld.

Activists are concerned that LANL's secrecy undermines the Los Alamos community's right to know the potential health effects of the facility. Jerry Leyba, of the Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, said, "I think it's a slap in the face to the people. I think there's a lot of information that has to be released to the public." Leyba also pointed out that this procedure has been completed successfully at every other DOE facility, which leads many activists to wonder about fairness. Ken Silver, a local advocate for LANL workers' rights, said, "What's at stake is whether New Mexican citizens are going to get equal treatment."

CDC is currently examining acceptable end-points for the project, until it is determined whether it will continue. A draft final report, although it would be incomplete, is expected this December.

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