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Good luck grappling with legacy issues

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It is good to read in the Los Alamos Monitor (Nov.  22-23) that environmental remediation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is starting to shift its emphasis.  
A bias for action is starting to replace the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) need to study things to death.
In the first six years of the compliance order on consent, studies NMED required LANL to perform cost about $900 million and consumed more than 90 percent of the total budget for those years.   
LANL already had 35 years of study and research before the order. NMED Secretary F. David Martin and the Martinez administration have a real challenge to reverse the NMED “bring me another rock” syndrome.
Another challenge is getting NMED to make decisions on a timely basis.  
The Monitor correctly noted that LANL submitted a remedy evaluation for Material Disposal Area H in September 2011.  
However, it fails to note that the first remedy evaluation was submitted in May 2003 and NMED has yet to make a decision.  
The Monitor notes that NMED issued certificates of completion for 160 legacy sites. It should be mentioned that NMED issued a simple certification of no further action (NFA) in 2007 for 20 small sites – two were submitted in 1995 for an NFA determination and the other 18 in 2001.  
The Monitor does not mention that LANL was doing a voluntary corrective action of soil vapor extraction at Area L, the chemical disposal site, and was removing hundreds of pounds of product per month.
NMED shut down this successful effort because it wanted to think about it. During this pause, the plume continues to grow.
A strong bias for action will be needed to meet the end date of 2015.  
In the old way of doing things if it takes eight or nine years to make a decision on the simple Area H (9 shafts) how long would it take for the complicated Area G?
Secretary Martin, LANL and the Department of Energy (DOE) should consider looking at the Rocky Flats model where the contractor, DOE, state and Environmental Protection Agency negotiated the agreement and got the entire plant remediated in 10 years, which was decades ahead of schedule and $24 billion under budget.  
I’m surprised that six years of study for $900 million hasn’t raised more eyebrows and a sense of outrage.  
Had there been a bias for action, just imagine where LANL would be if $800 million of those funds had gone for remediation.
I wish Secretary Martin the best as he grapples with how to deal with the legacy of previous administrations.
 
A. John Ahlquist
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Editor’s note: Ahlquist was involved in environmental surveillance, review and remediation at LANL for many years. He then had programmatic oversight through his positions at DOE and University of California’s Office of the President until his retirement in 2006.