LANL Planning to Replace CMR Building

Sandia's Mixed Waste Landfill Plan to be Independently Reviewed

Energy Secretary Abraham approved initial planning for a replacement of the Chemical and Metallurgical Research (or CMR) building at Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL), authorizing LANL to begin preliminary design and hazards analysis of the proposed building.

Operations at the CMR building began in 1952 at Technical Area 3 (or TA 3) and include research in analytical chemistry of plutonium and other weapons materials. The current building, which is two stories high and spans 550,000 square feet, has been plagued with accidents in recent years. In 1996, a fire erupted in an area of the building that serves as a storage site for nearly 50 spent nuclear fuel rods. In 1998, an earthquake fault was discovered under the building.

LANL is considering building the new structure next to the plutonium facility at TA-55 in order to consolidate security of the buildings. LANL has budgeted $16.4 million to complete the design phase of the project.

Activists are concerned that a new CMR building signals new weapons design and production at LANL. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said, "Congress declined to fund this project in the early '90s in light of the end of the Cold War. What is the real need for it now? We no longer have a nuclear adversary like Russia ... or a need to maintain a huge nuclear arsenal."

The Department of Energy (or DOE) will accept public comment on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for the new CMR building until August 31st. There will be a series of public meetings to discuss the scope on August 13th and 15th. For more information, please contact CCNS.

*DOE agreed this week to fund an independent peer review of their Corrective Measures Study for Sandia National Laboratory's Mixed Waste Landfill. Contaminants in the landfill include tons of depleted uranium, as well as tritium and plutonium. DOE plans indicate that the waste would be left in the ground rather than cleaned up and the landfill would be capped with a three-foot layer of soil. The landfill would then undergo Long-term Environmental Stewardship, a process in which DOE would monitor it until radiation levels naturally decrease, which could take thousands of years. The independent study requires Sandia to look at a range of options for closure of the landfill.

The landfill is located just south of Albuquerque and east of the Pueblo of Isleta, in one of Albuquerque's fastest growing areas, and is near the proposed Mesa del Sol planned community. DOE buried contaminated waste in the landfill from 1958 through 1989 in unlined pits and trenches.

This is a huge victory for Citizen Action, a coalition of 16 local non-governmental organizations and neighborhood associations, that has advocated for an independent peer review. Citizen Action argues that the landfill must be cleaned up and is concerned that DOE is compromising the health and safety of the future families living next to the landfill. Sue Dayton, of Citizen Action, said, "This is a positive step, the first step in three years that shows that DOE is willing to work with the public on this issue."

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