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Biden aims to boost LANL cleanup cash

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Biden administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 would increase Department of Energy funding for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory by 32%, allocating $333.5 million to the effort.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said in a statement that the budget proposal shows a renewed commitment by the federal government to clean up radioactive waste at the lab, much of it generated through LANL’s primary mission of nuclear weapons research and development.

“LANL’s cleanup program must have sufficient resources to ensure all planned restoration and protection efforts remain on schedule and critical milestones are met,” he said. “President Biden’s budget proposal is a step in the right direction, and I’ll continue to support LANL’s workers and advocate for waste cleanup to remain a top funding priority for the Department of Energy.”

The proposed budget calls for $167 million to be spent on soil and water remediation, and $105 million for stabilization and disposal of legacy waste, some of which has been on site since the Cold War era.

The DOE says that the funding would enable remediation of contamination on DP Road, the retrieval and repackaging of transuranic waste stored in Area G at the lab, and the continuation of cleanup and monitoring of a hexavalent chromium plume that threatens groundwater and surface water, among other things.

Cleanup at the lab is expected to take many years. The proposed budget includes an estimate for total lifecycle costs ranging from $7.2 billion to $8.4 billion for environmental cleanup through fiscal year 2090, though the job could be completed much sooner.

In addition, a new line item appears in the budget proposal that would direct nearly $60 million to dispose of the Ion Beam Materials Laboratory, which was used for materials modification and analysis.

“This increase supports the decontamination and decommissioning of high-risk excess nuclear facilities,” the congressional budget request says.

The DOE says the ion beam lab was identified as one of its top 10 highest risks to “missions, the workforce, the public, and the environment.”

“That’s good news,” Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said of the plan to get rid of the 35-year-old facility. “Demolishing that building will save the public costs and reduce risks.”

Coghlan at first said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see such a large increase in the budget for cleanup.

“Perhaps better put, flabbergasted,” he added, noting the $107.5 million increase in spending on the task compared to the current fiscal year.

He also noted that the Trump administration had proposed a $100 million decrease in spending on cleanup a year ago, but Congress ultimately kept cleanup spending at LANL at $226 million.

In a news release, Coghlan praised Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Environment Secretary James Kenney for suing DOE over a “continuing pattern of delay and noncompliance” with a 2016 consent order that provided benchmarks for cleanup that LANL has failed to meet.

Kenney said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the increase in funding for cleanup signaled a new commitment to the effort by the DOE.

“Make no mistake – budgets indicate priorities,” he said in a statement. “As I’ve stated before, the level of federal funding for cleanup at LANL is a clear indication of its priority within a given administration. DOE has a lot of work to do to meet the expectations of New Mexicans and the Environment Department going forward, but I am cautiously optimistic that this is a sign the DOE is listening to New Mexico at long last.”

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