.News Update 8/1/08

DOE Reports Increasing Radionuclides in Los Alamos and Santa Fe Drinking Water Wells

August 1, 2008

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently reported increasing levels of radionuclides in the Los Alamos and Santa Fe drinking water wells. DOE reported a doubling of the cesium levels in the Santa Fe wells and neptunium at double the federal drinking water standard in the Los Alamos County wells. DOE also reported radionuclides in the Pueblo de San Ildefonso drinking water wells. Most of the reported levels are below the federal drinking water standards. The source of many of the radionuclides is the manufacturing of plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, also called pits, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

As required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in June 2006 DOE released a draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Operations at LANL. NEPA provides opportunities for the public to review the environmental and public health impacts of federal projects and give oral and written comments to the governmental agencies.

The draft statement reported radionuclide contamination in both the Los Alamos and Santa Fe drinking water wells based on data from 2001 through 2004. CCNS and Robert H. Gilkeson, a registered geologist, reviewed the data and raised concerns about the quality of the data, the myriad of problems with the LANL wells and the lack of a reliable groundwater monitoring network for the many waste sites at LANL.

In response, LANL conducted a statistical analysis of the DOE data and concluded that they "believe the data demonstrate no radionuclide detections in the water supply wells, with the exception of tritium in [a Los Alamos drinking water well]." Tritium is radioactive hydrogen and travels readily with water through the LANL canyons to the Rio Grande and through groundwater to regional drinking water wells.

Nevertheless, in May 2008, DOE released the final Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for LANL in which they reported drinking water data from 2001 to 2005. With the addition of one year of data, a four-fold increase in the americium levels were reported in the Los Alamos County drinking water wells. Americium is a decay product of plutonium. DOE also reported a doubling of cesium and a 67% increase in tritium levels.

For the Santa Fe wells, DOE reported a doubling of cesium; an almost doubling of potassium; a 63% increase in radium; and a 68% increase in tritium levels.

DOE is the self-regulating for these radionuclides. DOE only reported radionuclide contamination for the drinking water wells, even though other toxic and hazardous contaminants have been reported in the wells drilled to characterize the geology beneath LANL.

Gilkeson said, "The repeated measurement of radionuclides in many of the Los Alamos County, the Pueblo de San Ildefonso and Santa Fe drinking water wells is an emerging environmental emergency. In order to ensure the safety of regional drinking water supplies, cleanup of the radioactive, toxic and hazardous waste must be the number one priority at LANL."

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