Public Comments Needed for Ground Water Discharge Permit for the LANL Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility

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Runs 11/22/13 through 11/29/13

(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:

  • Public Comments Needed for Ground Water Discharge Permit for the LANL Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility

The Ground Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department released a draft ground water discharge permit for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for public review and comment. – see 9/13/13 notice.  The Communities for Clean Water are preparing sample public comments for you to use, which will be posted on the websites of CCNS and Amigos Bravos soon.  Public comments are due December 12th.

The Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility has been in operation since 1963 and treats liquid radioactive waste created at the plutonium and tritium facilities located across the LANL site.  In 1995 the Environment Department first released a draft ground water permit for public review and comment and CCNS requested a public hearing.  In 2005, another draft permit was released for public comment and the Communities for Clean Water asked for a public hearing.

The current draft permit allows LANL to discharge up to 40,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater into the environment through one of three conveyances.  The first is through a discharge pipe into Mortandad Canyon.  The second is through an indoor Mechanical Evaporator System.  The third is to the outdoor, synthetically lined Solar Evaporation Tanks.  Under a plan to eliminate the discharge to groundwater in Mortandad Canyon, LANL has almost eliminated use of the pipe.

As a result, LANL has increased the amount of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, which is released into the air through the use of the evaporation systems. The Mechanical Evaporator System is gas-generated.  It is used to dispose of treated low-level radioactive waste water.  The Solar Evaporative Tank System, located down the mesa in Technical Area 52, consists of two cells, each of which holds approximately 380,000 gallons of waste water.  The system has a double-lined synthetic liner and a leak detection system.

Unfortunately, the draft permit requires LANL to submit plans for what will happen when it’s ready to close and decommission the TA-50 facility after a possible public hearing about the permit.  Under the New Mexico regulations, however, the Environment Department Secretary may require that the closure plans be submitted as part of the permit application.  If the closure plans were submitted now for the 50-year old facility, the public would have the entire package to review and make informed comments.

Joni Arends, with CCNS, said, “It has been almost been two decades for the Environment Department to regulate the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility.   In order to provide informed public comments about the draft permit, it is necessary for the Environment Department to order that LANL submit their closure plans now.”


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