NMED Postpones Final Corrective Action Order for LANL

Kirtland Air Force Base Commits to Cleanup of Four Contaminated Sites

* The New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) said this week that it will postpone releasing the final corrective action order for Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL). The draft order, which was released on May 2nd, prompted legal action by the University of California (or UC), who manages LANL. UC objects to the draft order's finding that LANL operations "may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment."

LANL raised many issues questioning NMED's authority to regulate radioactive waste. Kathy Tyson-Foster, spokesperson for NMED, said, "It is a complex issue and highly technical and we need to be sure to address everything necessary to present our case thoroughly."

LANL complained that NMED only has authority to force cleanup of hazardous and solid waste, not radioactive. NMED officials argue that often these types of waste are so intermingled that it is impossible to clean one without the other.

Activists are concerned that, because of changes in administration throughout the New Mexico state government, the order may become less of a priority to the state. In order to protect public health and the environment, activists strongly urge NMED to move forward with the order. NMED reports that the final order will be released by Thanksgiving.

*Albuquerque's Kirtland Air Force Base announced this week that it is committed to cleaning up four sites on the base that are contaminated with radioactive elements. The sites are contaminated due to emergency response training exercises that have been performed on the base since the 1960s, and total approximately 44 acres.

The sites are primarily contaminated with thorium and its decay products. In an effort to reduce the risk to human health at Kirtland, officials plan to clean the sites to residential standards. The cleanup is estimated to cost $12 to $13 million. Although cleanup to residential standards is more expensive than less thorough cleanup, Kirtland officials say that it is well worth it, considering that it will protect the Kirtland community in the long-term. Jerry Sillerud, Kirtland's Environmental Engineer, said, "This [clean up of sites to residential land use standards] eliminates any future concerns."

Activists in the Albuquerque area are hoping that Kirtland's commitment will be an example for nearby Sandia National Laboratory. Sandia refuses to clean up its Mixed Waste Landfill, which covers 2.6 acres adjacent to the City of Albuquerque. Contaminants in the landfill include tons of depleted uranium, as well as tritium and plutonium. Department of Energy (or DOE) plans indicate that the waste will remain in the ground, because it is too dangerous to safely remove. DOE proposes instead a program of long-term environmental stewardship, which involves capping the landfill and monitoring it until radioactive emissions naturally decrease, which could take tens of thousands of years.

However, activists say that DOE should follow the example set by the Air Force, not only at Kirtland, but also at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, where a waste site similar to the Mixed Waste Landfill is scheduled for complete cleanup.

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