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DOE: $4 billion, 20 years to clean up legacy waste

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LANL Coalition > Representatives get cost, time estimate in new document

By Tris DeRoma

Representatives from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities scored a victory in Washington, D.C. last week when they came away with an official cost and time estimate of what it will take to clean up all the waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The group lobbied the Department of Energy to create a document called a “Lifecycle Cost Estimate.” The DOE estimates that it’s going to take about $4 billion and 20 years, if Los Alamos receives the annual funding recommended in the report. DOE officials made clear the document is meant only as a guideline
The document covers 955 sites from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War eras. About 5,000 cubic meters of legacy waste remain. About half of that is stored below ground.
Coalition representative and Los Alamos County Councilor Kristin Henderson said the report will make all the difference in keeping the cleanup organized, properly funded and on time.
“Every DOE site has a lifecycle baseline, and for a long time, Los Alamos didn’t,” Henderson said. “What that meant is, we didn’t have a published understanding of all the things that needed to be cleaned up, what kind of level they were going to be cleaned up to, how much it’s going to cost and how many years it’s going to take.”
Los Alamos has a Lifecycle Cost Estimate that could mean even more money every year.
The Lifecycle Cost Estimate came through a contract with the DOE’s Environmental Management Office.
In prior years, the region’s congressional representatives would go to the Appropriations Committee and ask for a set amount of money, the committee would ask for their Lifecycle Cost Estimate, and Los Alamos didn’t have one, Henderson said.
Now that they have one, they will be able to show the committee why they need a particular amount of money, instead of just accepting what the Appropriations Committee gives them every year.
Coalition representatives thanked their congressional representatives in helping to secure the document from the DOE.  
 “As of today, we know more and can rest more assured than at any time in the history of this effort, and that’s a major step forward. I’m appreciative of the commitment to getting this done from the Department of Energy, and to Senator Martin Heinrich, Senator Tom Udall and Representative Ben Ray Lujan for their work in obtaining this document for the public,” said Santa Fe Mayor Javier M. Gonzales, another coalition member.
In recent years, funding for LANL cleanup has averaged about $195 million a year. Now that Henderson said they were also able to secure in the contract previous benefits they had with LANL, including commitments to the community through scholarships and investment. The Coalition also made sure that a “very high” number of local contractors were to be used in cleanup operations, said Henderson.
“We’ve always had that through the lab contract, but we weren’t sure if we were going to get those things in this contract with the environmental management office,” she said.
The Lifecycle Cost Estimate is the first of it’s kind for Los Alamos, and it is the last DOE site in the eight-site nuclear complex to receive one. Now that it has one, it’s going to enable the northern New Mexico’s congressional representatives to present to the congressional Appropriations Committee every year a clear, concise estimate of how much in annual funding Los Alamos is going to need to accomplish the cleanup for that year.
“The Lifecycle Baseline documentation provides our communities the necessary foundation to properly advocate on behalf of the best possible scenarios for cleaning up legacy nuclear waste at the Laboratory in the most time and cost-efficient manner,” Coalition Director Andrea Romero said.
The Coalition of is made up of representatives from eight communities. Those include Los Alamos County, Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, Española, Taos, Taos County Jemez and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblos.