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DOE: Half of legacy waste cleanup incomplete

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By Tris DeRoma

The Department of Energy released an update Tuesday on how toxic waste legacy cleanup is progressing at 14 sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.

According to the DOE, legacy waste, which is toxic waste generated before 1999, is the Office of Environmental Management’s responsibility.

The DOE had identified 2,100 cleanup sites at the lab’s 40 square mile property. Only 10 percent of the sites remain to be investigated. Half of the legacy cleanup is complete, according to the report.

That includes waste sites in Los Alamos Canyon.

“Earlier this summer, two contaminated sites, the final legacy sites to be cleaned up along Los Alamos Canyon, were cleaned up on DOE property in what was the laboratory’s original footprint,” said Los Alamos EM Public Affairs Specialist Steven Horak. “The contaminated soil was primarily associated with legacy outfalls and surface disposal from the Manhattan Project and early Cold War research and site management activities.”

The Los Alamos Office of Environmental Management also began treatment of 60 barrels of remediated nitrate salt drums in April. The drums were part of a 2014 shipment of waste due to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. Shipments were halted however when a barrel from the same shipment burst inside the plant’s underground facilities in February, 2014.

“Treatment of 60 remediated nitrate salt drums (RNS) began in May. As of Sept. 7, 33 of the 60 drums have been treated. The treatment of 27 unremediated nitrate salt drums will follow completion of the treatment of the RNS drums,” Horak said.

The Los Alamos EM also reports it’s removed 93 percent of the “TRU” waste being stored above ground at the site mainly what’s known as Area G at TA-54. TRU waste is low level nuclear waste, mainly consisting of items, like clothing and tools that have been contaminated by radioactivity.

Legacy cleanup has also involved the demolition of 28 buildings, the installation of one regional groundwater monitoring well and remediation of “material disposal areas” inside technical area 21, located at the end of DP Road. The area was the site of tritium processing. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, accelerator research and laser fusion.

The Los Alamos EM office has made progress on halting a chromium leak through the installation of a network of wells that monitor and remove chromium from an aquifer under Mortandad Canyon. The chromium was used as a corrosion preventive in a laboratory plant in the 1970s.

Water containing the chromium was routinely flushed out into Sandia Canyon, where it eventually settled into an aquifer under Mortandad Canyon. The Los Alamos EM has been containing the spill on lab property through the network of wells, trying to keep it from going onto the San Ildefonso Pueblo. The DOE reported that 75 percent of the infrastructure needed to contain the leak has been completed.

The Los Alamos EM office makes up 8 percent of LANL’s $2.5 billion fiscal year 2017 budget at $194 million.