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DOE: Los Alamos won’t meet deadline to dispose of waste

Los Alamos National Laboratory will not meet the June 30 deadline to permanently dispose of some 3,706 cubic meters of nuclear waste, the Department of Energy confirmed Friday.

The plan known as the “3706 Campaign” became derailed due to an underground fire and subsequent radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad — the planned final resting place for the waste.

About 93 percent of the waste has been removed from LANL over the past two years, according to the New Mexico Environment Department, which ordered the removal after a 2011 wildfire threatened the drums.

The confirmation makes official what was already a likely conclusion: A drum from a stream of LANL waste is the focus of the investigation into what happened at the WIPP underground repository to cause the radiation release. A reaction occurred in at least one LANL drum, generating enough heat to crack the lid.

WIPP has been closed to waste shipments since the Feb. 5 fire and Feb. 14 radiation release.

The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday in a statement that it “is disappointed but not surprised.”

“The state will review potential options in regards to the larger consent order for all legacy waste clean-up at LANL, including DOE’s track record at LANL,” NMED said. “As soon as the WIPP is able to safely resume operations, NMED will aggressively push DOE to complete the 3706 Campaign.”

WIPP managers have said it could be three years before the plant is reopened.

Before the removal campaign began, the drums of radioactive waste at LANL had sat idle above ground for decades. Gov. Susana Martinez made their removal a priority of her administration. The 2011 Las Conchas wildfire burned to within 3.5 miles of the drums’ storage area.