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Full-scale demolition begins at TA-21

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By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos National Laboratory Tuesday began demolishing a Cold War-era complex of buildings in Technical Area 21, that once housed plutonium production and historic, nonweapons research.

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“We’re seeing something this morning that has not happened since the late 1940s,” LANL Deputy Director Ike Richardson said. “The Los Alamos skyline is starting to change.”

More than 50 guests, including elected officials and representatives from New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, watched as two large excavators began tearing away walls of the two-story, 22,000-square-foot former lab building.

“This is a symbol of times changing and getting better,” said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry.

Curry ceremonially started the demolition by giving the go ahead on a two-way radio.

LANL was able to accelerate demolition and cleanup of this complex because of a $212 million award from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than 165,000 square feet of former research, production and office buildings are in line to be demolished.

“This was the second generation of Lab buildings,” said Environmental Projects Manager George Rael of the Los Alamos Site Office. “In the fingerlike mesas upon which the lab and the town site rest, TA-21 was the pointer finger ... Everything was happening here.”

TA-21 Closure Project Manager Al Chaloupka spoke about the educational aspects of the project.

“We’re able to train laborers, heavy equipment operators and others who, once this project is done, will be able to train new workers so the program perpetuates itself. Once trained, these workers will be able to do similar work and even become supervisors for contractors here at the Lab,” Chaloupka said.

LANL’s environmental spokesman Fred deSousa explained that historic achievements at TA-21 included production of nuclear weapons components used in tests in the Pacific and at the Nevada Test Site, isolation of the first gram of americium-241—later used in smoke detectors, and the development of plutonium heat sources now aboard the Galileo and Cassini space probes.

Rubble from the buildings will be sent to licensed disposal sites, he said. Contaminated rubble will go to sites in Utah or Nevada in approved transportation containers.

Recovery Act funding also will help towards cleaning up the Laboratory’s first waste disposal pits, used from 1944 through 1948 and the installation of 16 new groundwater-monitoring wells.