Runoff From the Aftermath of
the Cerro Grande Fire is Studied
Environmental Group Warns of a Lawsuit
to Stop LANL Dam
Senate Appropriations Committee approved a nuclear weapons
budget of $4.9 billion
June 2nd, Los Alamos had its first significant thunderstorm after
the Cerro Grande Fire. The runoff flushed plutonium-239 and uranium
down Los Alamos Canyon near the closed Omega West Reactor at higher
levels than ever detected before. The preliminary data from Los
Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) shows that measurable amounts
of plutonium, cesium-137, strontium-90 and other contaminants
moved down the canyon. Overall, there was enough combined radioactivity
above levels that can trigger cleanup of drinking water. LANL
officials said that since humans don't drink the water in the
canyons, the regulatory standard doesn't really apply, but the
data does give a conservative read on the magnitude of the moving
contamination. These test results on the runoff were released
because of public concern about the contamination and its impact
on the environment.
Scientists from the State, LANL and University
of New Mexico continue to study runoff samples from major storms
to evaluate the risks to human health and the Rio Grande.
the June 2nd storm was brief and runoff was weak, it is a questionable
indicator of what levels of contaminants will be moved when the
torrential downpours hit Northern New Mexico. It is known, however,
that radioactivity for plutonium, uranium and other contaminants
did exceed drinking water standards for alpha radiation at the
boundary of the lab on June 2nd.
environmental group, Forest Guardians, warned they may file a
lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps (pronounced core) of Engineers
for improperly permitting a 70-foot, $6.8 million concrete dam
to be built in Pajarito Canyon on LANL property. The Santa Fe-based
group said the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL failed to show
the dam is really needed. Forest Guardians want to force the Corps
to fully investigate the environmental impacts of the dam and
The excavation of the dam site, in a narrow
reach of Pajarito Canyon, about a mile above LANL's Technical
Area-18 (or TA-18), has already begun. TA-18 is of great concern
because there are several small experimental nuclear reactors
at ground level in the canyon bottom. Lab workers have removed
the nuclear fuel from what the lab has named "Kiva 1." DOE decided
to move all the materials at TA-18 over the next year because
the site is too old and too expensive to protect against potential
terrorist attack. During the Cerro Grande fire, the buildings
at TA-18 was surrounded by fire on three sides. Besides TA-18,
the dam is also supposed to protect the community of White Rock.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a 100-year flood
would not reach the homes in White Rock.
The Corps authorized
its own environmental approval for the dam under the provisions
of the Clean Water Act for emergency fire rehabilitation projects.
The nationwide permit only applies to projects proposed by U.S.
Department of Agriculture agencies, not DOE. By using the nationwide
permit, the Corps did not have to perform detailed analyses of
the impacts the dam may have or look at other alternatives, like
a smaller and less environmentally damaging way to control the
In a letter to the Corps, Sam Hitt of the Forest
Guardians stated, "There is no debate that significant impacts
will occur during the construction and operation of this dam.
Clearing for the dam and site for a concrete batch plant will
move hundreds of tons of soil and rock, harm some of the best
habitat on LANL property for the federally protected Mexican spotted
owl, inundate a perennial water course and its riparian community
and cause long-term harm. Nationwide permits are only appropriate
for actions that will have minimal adverse impacts, which is clearly
not the case in this instance."
July 17th, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a nuclear
weapons budget of $4.9 billion, $250 million above what the Clinton
administration's request was for fiscal year 2001. The bill provides
$4.9 billion for the nuclear weapons program for stockpile stewardship
and manufacturing nuclear weapons. Only $204 million is budgeted
to repair damage from the Cerro Grande Fire and another $16.8
million for ongoing and new programs to help support the health
of the Rio Grande, from Northern New Mexico to Las Cruces.
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