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Los Alamos National Laboratory waste cleanup costs rocket to $4 billion

WIPPEnvironment Department: LANL cleanup could cost $4B, Santa Fe New Mexican News   Jun 2, 2016. Rebecca Moss  The New Mexican

The New Mexico Environment Department told state lawmakers Wednesday that it may cost the federal government far more than expected to remove contamination from Los Alamos National Laboratory over the next decade.

During a meeting of the legislative Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee, Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said costs could exceed $4 billion, more than double the current budget proposed by federal regulators.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $1.7 billion, 10-year Los Alamos Legacy Cleanup Contract, work primarily focused on cleaning up contamination and legacy nuclear waste at lab sites and areas surrounding the lab. The announcement follows the release of a new consent order with the state in March, a document that governs the lab’s cleanup objectives. Unlike the previous order, with a missed deadline in December 2015 to have all waste removed from the lab, the new deal focuses on contamination and sets more flexible targets, which Flynn has said will accelerate cleanup.

The December deadline was missed in large part because of a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Southern New Mexico, where barrels of transuranic waste from Los Alamos were being stored in underground salt caverns. An improperly packaged waste drum from Los Alamos burst in February 2014, closing down the waste site.

Following the WIPP breach, the consortium that operates the lab, Los Alamos National Security LLC, received a scathing performance review, and in December, federal officials announced the management contract would be put up for bid. A new contractor will take over lab operations in 2018…….

Some critics, however, have said that having flexible deadlines for cleanup work is not an effective way to hold the lab accountable.

In April, Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit against Los Alamos National Security and the Department of Energy over their failures to meet cleanup milestones under the 2005 consent order. The watchdog group said the state could have collected more than $300 million in penalties if the federal government was held accountable for the deadlines.

The state issued 150 extensions under the Martinez administration, which the lab still failed to meet, the group said.

Nuclear Watch Director Jay Coghlan said in a news release at the time that the group was aiming to make the lab and federal agency “clean up their radioactive and toxic mess first before making another one for a nuclear weapons stockpile that is already bloated far beyond what we need.”

He was referring to plans pending in Congress to increase plutonium pit production in Los Alamos over the coming decades.

“I don’t believe there is a sincere intention on the part of anyone, including the New Mexico Environment Department, to clean up this site,” said Greg Mello, director of the Las Alamos Study Group, another local nuclear watchdog group.

Mello said putting more money into cleanup work won’t remedy the lab’s waste problem, with a new waste stream resulting from continued nuclear weapons work at the lab.

 

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June 4, 2016 - Posted by | wastes

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