LANL Waste Shipments through Antonito Stopped for Now

August 13, 2010

In a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Colorado Congressman John T. Salazar, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) announced that, for now, it would no longer truck radioactive waste to Antonito, Colorado for transfer to a train destined for the EnergySolutions disposal site in Utah. LANL stated that the current EnergySolutions contract for transporting and disposing of waste was completed last week, but new contracts could be in the works.

Since November, LANL has been shipping radioactive waste, which is contaminated with depleted uranium and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to a makeshift transloading facility in Conejos County, next to the San Antonio River, south of Antonio. The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad is proposing to develop a formal hazardous waste transloading facility at that location.

The contaminated waste is waste generated in the early days of nuclear weapons manufacturing operations at LANL. The Department of Energy (DOE), which owns and operates LANL, is spending an additional $170 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to cleanup historic waste sites. In the next year or so, there are plans to remove additional wastes.

David Rhodes, of DOE, attended the meeting. He stated, "This waste should not provide any additional risk to the community should there be a spill."

Since November, the Conejos County Clean Water, a newly-formed non-governmental organization, has been working to halt the transloading activities. They state that "concerned citizens want to stop the risk to all of our San Luis Valley communities, as well as all communities downstream of the San Antonio, including the Rio Grande River and water basin, which this waste could potentially contaminate." The San Antonio is a tributary of the Rio Grande.

Representatives from the Conejos County Clean Water and community members have pressured elected officials to use their authority to oppose the transloading. The County Commissioners filed for an injunction to stop the shipments and required the transloading operators to apply for a special permit. Nevertheless, DOE, LANL, EnergySolutions and the railroad have bypassed the permit requirement by claiming a federal preemption from local laws. In May, the Conejos County Commissioners voted against a proposed settlement that would have allowed the railroad to haul the contaminated wastes with several conditions in place.

In order to address possible future transportation contracts between LANL and EnergySolutions, Representative Salazar formed a task force to continue discussions about the transportation issues. The task force is composed of representatives from Conejos County Clean Water, Conejos County Commissioners, the Town of Antonio, DOE, LANL, the Railroad, and EnergySolutions. They will be meeting over the next 30 days and report back to Congressman Salazar and the public.

August 16, 2010 Correction: After hearing concerns from community members and elected officials, LANL stopped waste shipments to the transloading location in Antonito, Colorado in December 2009. Conejos County had red-tagged the process and LANL and Energy Solutions voluntarily stopped using the transloading location. The campaign was completed by truck on a different highway route to the Clive, Utah disposal facility, owned by EnergySolutions.

August 20, 2010 Update: The San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for a declaratory order that it is exempt from the land use code of Conejos County and that the Clean Railroads Act of 2008 does not apply to them. On August 12, 2010 the Board found that there is a controversy and is providing opportunity for the parties to brief the issues. In addition, the Board is allowing public comments, which are due September 27, 2010.

Please see the link for the 3-page STB Decision Document:

Back to News Index