.News Update 12/28/07

Inadequate DOE Funding for Cleanup at LANL

December 28, 2007

The Department of Energy (DOE) did not request enough funding from Congress for cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2007. DOE requested approximately $140 million, but LANL officials recently reported that $220 million was needed to meet the requirements of the cleanup order between DOE, LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). The shortfall may result in additional fines and penalties to DOE and LANL under the cleanup order.

Through the work of New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, the cleanup funding was increased to $153 million. In a statement Domenici said the funding "provided for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos means that the lab will need cooperation from the state [environment department]."

But NMED is unwilling to renegotiate the cleanup order or reduce the requirements due to DOE budget issues. NMED Secretary Ron Curry said, "Our job is to make sure cleanup proceeds."

DOE also released its Fiscal Year 2007 Financial Report. The report estimates that unfunded liabilities for cleanup across the nuclear weapons complex may be as high as $264 billion. DOE states that the unfunded liabilities represent "one of the most technically challenging and complex cleanup efforts in the world. Estimating this liability requires making assumptions about future activities and is inherently uncertain. The future course of the [DOE] environmental management program will depend on a number of fundamental technical and policy choices, many of which have not been made. The cost and environmental implications of alternative choices can be profound."

The DOE Inspector General also found that there were deficiencies "in the process to identify and record environmental liabilities accurately, completely and in a timely manner." The Inspector General cited the DOE’s use of flawed assumptions and out-of-date information, inconsistent reporting of data across the DOE sites and inadequate management review of information supporting cleanup decisions. These deficiencies magnify the problems with estimating the unfunded environmental liabilities.

For the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2006, DOE spent approximately $6 billion on environmental cleanup across the weapons complex. DOE has a huge cleanup responsibility for the sites involved in nuclear weapons research, development, production and testing. Over two million acres were devoted to these activities, an area equal to the combined size of Delaware and Rhode Island.

Generally, it has been stated that the environmental liabilities at LANL may be at least $1 billion, depending on the actual level of cleanup. The cleanup costs for the safest option for our water supplies, which is the removal of all of the 18 million cubic feet of buried waste, has not been estimated. DOE and LANL currently plan on leaving most of the waste buried and installing a cap over many of the dumpsites.

Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, stated, "The amount of unfunded DOE environmental liabilities is already astronomical. Given the uncertainties and flawed assumptions made by DOE about cleanup, it is necessary for New Mexicans to support the NMED to ensure that actual cleanup is one of the main budgetary priorities at LANL."

Back to News Index