Cesium Found in Spring Feeding into Rio Grande

* A report released this week by The RadioActivist Campaign (TRAC) and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) indicates that there is radioactive cesium-137 in a spring near Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that feeds into the Rio Grande. The report, based on an independent citizens' sampling initiative, found levels of cesium at 0.01 to 6 picocuries per kilogram of water and aquatic moss in the spring. Cesium is a carcinogenic radioactive element that is a result of nuclear weapons production. CCNS and TRAC believe that the cesium is from waste buried at LANL that is migrating toward the river through groundwater pathways. Previous LANL estimates indicate that it would take thousands of years for groundwater beneath LANL to reach the Rio Grande. However, these findings indicate that it could take as few as 60 years.

The report is based on findings by TRAC, who sampled the Rio Grande from Buckman to Cochiti Dam in October 2002 and April 2003 as part of CCNS's Rio Grande Watershed Initiative, which advocates citizen oversight of and participation in decisionmaking regarding the Rio Grande and LANL.

In order to distinguish the source of the cesium, TRAC investigated four different sample media, which included water, aquatic moss, solids washed from the moss and sediment. Through detailed analysis, TRAC determined that the cesium was leaking from LANL waste sites and traveling through groundwater pathways and not from global fallout from nuclear weapons testing.

Although the levels of cesium present in the spring do not yet pose a human health risk, CCNS and TRAC say that this early warning gives LANL and other appropriate agencies ample time to address the waste streams that may be affecting the river. Joni Arends, Executive Director of CCNS, said, "These findings indicate that LANL must be held responsible for its past and current waste sources."

CCNS contends that despite the low level, the cesium in the spring may be indicative of larger levels yet to come and that thorough sampling of the spring must continue in order to make informed decisions about LANL's wastes and their effects on the Rio Grande. Arends said, "Leakage of cesium-137 from LANL into the Rio Grande warns the public of what is on the way. It's essential that the public provide meaningful oversight of LANL's wastes now, before we're drinking them."

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) agrees that the findings merit further testing of the spring and its contents. Jon Goldstein, of NMED, said that although the department has not found cesium in the springs at the river, "that doesn't mean these findings aren't true. We plan to go up there, do our own sampling and see what we find."

Since the report's release, LANL has suggested that it would like to begin a joint sampling initiative with NMED, CCNS and TRAC. Arends said, "Our greatest intention with this report was to begin a dialog about the quality and quantity of the water in the river, which is absolutely necessary if we are to sustain New Mexico's greatest natural resource."

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