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Report: Los Alamos to end radioactive on-site waste disposal

LOS ALAMOS — Amid concerns from regulators over hazardous waste and contamination, a new report says the Los Alamos National Laboratory will stop disposing low-level radioactive waste at its largest waste disposal area by October 2017.

A recently released annual environmental report said the lab will end on-site radioactive waste disposal at the storage compound known as “Area G.” The Los Alamos Monitor reports that Area G is the lab’s largest disposal area.

“The strategy for both low-level radiological waste and mixed low-level waste is to minimize its generation and to dispose of all newly generated waste off-site. No new, on-site disposal capacity will be developed,” the report said.

The lab was shipping the low-level waste from Area G to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. That stopped when an improperly packed barrel shipped from the lab exploded at the plant in February 2014.

The annual report monitors the impact lab activities have on the environment and northern New Mexico residents.

Greg Mello, executive director of the nuclear disarmament group the Los Alamos Study Group, was pleased with the news.

“It’s the end of an era that started in 1943. There isn’t any place along the Pajarito Plateau that should be a dump,” Mello said. “It’s good to have that in the rearview mirror.”

The federal Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Office in Los Alamos released a report recently that said it could take more than 20 years and nearly from $2.9 billion to $3.8 billion to finish cleanup of materials left over from nuclear weapons production in Los Alamos.

It was the most detailed estimate yet on the expense of remediating the lab’s so-called “legacy” waste.

Critics maintain the DOE’s cost estimates are low and note that the agency expects to use an “engineered cover” at the site, instead of exhuming and removing hazardous materils, which Nuclear Watch New Mexico says would leave the materials permanently buried above the regional aquifer and three miles uphill from the Rio Grande.

New Mexico and the U.S. Energy Department first signed a consent order that guides cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory more than a decade ago. A revised order was signed this year. Nuke Watch is challenging the new agreement in court.

In a related development the DOE’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office announced today (Thursday, Oct. 6) completion of a project to to remove contaminated soil from four legacy waste sites along the south-facing slopes of Los Alamos Canyon adjacent to the Los Alamos Townsite.

The project began in early June 2016 and focused on completing sampling and cleanup of contaminated soil associated with former outfalls and surface disposal sites from the Manhattan Project, the 1940s project that developed the first atomic bomb.

About 133 cubic yards of soil was excavated, bagged, screened, and transferred to a waste staging area, according to a news release. The resulting waste was then transported off-site for final disposition at a disposal facility in Utah.


Information from: Los Alamos Monitor,