Proposed City of Santa Fe Area G Resolution Circumvents Public Process


Runs 11/15/13 through 11/22/13

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

  • Proposed City of Santa Fe Area G Resolution Circumvents Public Process

At the November 13th Santa Fe City Council meeting, Mayor David Coss introduced a resolution requesting that alternatives to leaving nuclear waste buried at Area G at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) be considered.  As an alternative, it urges the reburial of low-level wastes at an unknown location.  Unless the draft resolution is withdrawn, the full City Council will vote on Wednesday, December 11th.

While the draft resolution appears to be benign, the content raises more questions than it answers.

Area G is the 63-acre operating dump for hazardous, toxic and low-level radioactive wastes.  It began operation in the late 1950s before there were laws protecting the soils, air and water from pollution. None of the pits, trenches and shafts used for waste disposal, dug out of the volcanic tuff, are lined. Pollution has been found in the water bodies below Area G, including in the regional aquifer.

The New Mexico Environment Department is responsible for the permitting of hazardous waste operations at Area G, and the other two dumps there, Areas H and L.  When their first draft of the permit was released for public review and comment in 2007, it did not include closure and post-closure plans for almost 30 operating units.  In these plans, LANL is required to explain what will happen when the units close.  If waste is to be left in place, post-closure plans are required to detail what type of monitoring will be done.  Such information is important now to understand what the future holds.

When the public objected to the lack of plans, the Environment Department required LANL to submit plans for 26 operating units, but not require plans for Areas G, H and L.  The lack of plans for the leaking dumps is one of the issues CCNS raised in its appeal of the permit to the New Mexico Court of Appeals in late 2010.

If the City supports reburial of low-level waste at LANL, then the public process may be by-passed.  Because the Court of Appeals case has not been resolved, the City’s resolution interferes with that process and could lead to the public not being involved in the process.  DOE is self-regulating for low-level waste, which means that under DOE requirements, LANL would submit its closures plans to DOE for approval.  LANL would have to prove to DOE, not the public, that the dumps would not leak for 1,000 years and that the public would not be harmed.

In this case, CCNS agrees with DOE when it acknowledged that the Area G decisions must be made by the state of New Mexico – but only after receiving input from the public.  The draft resolution would bypass that public process.

The draft resolution will be heard before the Public Utilities Committee on Wednesday, December 4th.


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