Lab outlines priority cleanup goals

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LANL: Officials hope to remove 3,706 cubic meters of waste by June 2014

By John Severance

Lab officials are calling it the “LANL 3,706 Transuranic Waste Campaign.”

Why the 3,706?

Their goal is to remove 3,706 cubic meters of TRU waste by June 30, 2014 from Technical Area 54 and Material Disposal Area G.

So how much is 3,706 cubic meters?

It’s a lot. A cubic meter is a unit of measurement for volume. The 3,706 cubic meters translates to roughly 130,876.154 cubic feet.

Dan Cox, the deputy associate director for Environmental Programs at the lab, told the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board that the waste is classified into three categories. Seventy percent of the waste is in oversized containers, 20 percent are in drums and 10 percent are in standard waste boxes.

Cox said the biggest challenge is dealing with the oversized containers. Sending the waste off the hill is a four—step process, which includes storing the waste safely, remediate and repackaging the waste, characterize and certify the waste, and then build the payloads and ship it off to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Cox estimated it will take 585 truck shipments to get the waste to WIPP.

That does not seem like a lot, but since 2009, the lab has sent 450 shipments to WIPP and each year it has set a record for the number sent down the hill.

The increase in shipments is part of a framework deal reached between DOE, NNSA and LANL with the New Mexico Environment Department.

George Rael, the assistant manager for environmental programs at the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office told the advisory board that it was not possible for DOE to meet the Consent Order by 2015.

State officials have refused to negotiate the end of the Consent Order, but both sides have worked on prioritizing its waste shipment goals. And NMED has given the lab 26 different extensions for various projects.

The Consent Order between NMED and was signed on March 1, 2005. The Order provides the time table and requirements for environmental clean up of hazardous constituents for the laboratory.

Michael Graham, the associate director for environmental programs, provided the citizens group with a status update of LANL cleanup activities.

There are more than 2,100 regional sites and approximately half of them have been remediated.

“Of the remaining sites, we have completed the initial investigation on approximately 90 percent of those sites.”

Originally, there were 26 Material Disposal Areas and Graham said 10 of them have been completely cleaned up, seven since 2007. They have completed investigations at five MDAs (C, G, H, L and T) and the remainder is “in investigation phase.”

Graham addressed the groundwater monitoring network and he said there has been “substantial monitoring and sediment controls to support the Consent Order and the Buckman Direct Diversion project.”

Graham said last year the lab used $212 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to decontaminate and demolish 24 Manhattan and Cold War era buildings, reducing the legacy footprint by 175,000 square feet. In addition, Graham said 16 regional groundwater wells were installed.

Most of the work was done at MDA—B, located at TA—21, across from various businesses including the Los Alamos Monitor.

“We excavated about 43,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris and safely removed approximately 115 PE—Ci (Plutonium Equivalent Curies) of radioactive waste from the site.

“It was a big challenge but we did it safely,” Graham said. “It was quite interesting. We also pulled out two vehicles.”

Graham cited other accomplishments including, receiving certificates of completion from NMED for 83 sites, and submitting corrective measures evaluations for MDAs G, H and L, remediating MDAs N and Y and met every Consent Order deadline, including on—time submittal of 281 documents.

Graham said the lab completed 171 shipments to WIPP in FY 11 and “we established new capabilities for re—packing and characterizing legacy TRU waste.

The biggest issue, however, has been the fact that LANL and NMED have shifted their priorities for the present fiscal year.

DOE, NNSA and LANL have been working with NMED and in the past year, no fines have been levied.
In the previous 10 years, NMED has levied close to $10 million in fines, according to a CN&E Penalty/Payment Report released by NMED in July of last year.

“This is a new day,” NMED secretary David Martin said. “There is a new team in place at the lab and we are going to work with them. These people can get the job done.”

And then looking at Kevin Smith, the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office manager, Martin said, “Kevin, he’s a doer. I expect he and I have the same problem. Patience is not one of our virtues.”