LANL has new environmental leader

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By Roger Snodgrass

Michael Graham has been named to lead environmental programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, taking over from Susan Stiger who is moving on to a new assignment with Bechtel National.

Graham has spent the last four years with Bechtel Savanna River, Inc. a contractor partnered with URS/Washington Group at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The company was responsible environmental remediation, project management and design and construction services.

“I first went there as the project director on soil and groundwater closure projects. Then I moved up and took over,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “I’m happy to be here and looking forward to the challenges.”

Much of the environmental work at LANL revolves around a Consent Order with the state of New Mexico that established a schedule of requirements for environmental cleanup of radioactive and hazardous waste from previous decades of operations.

Various levels of tension and cooperation between the laboratory and the New Mexico Environment Department have characterized the relationship in recent years. NMED enforces the Consent Order and regulates air and water standards for the state,

NMED is also in the midst of a renewal process for an operating permit for the laboratory, which has been extended for many years and is facing a potentially contentious round of public involvement.

The lab is engaged in a major effort to identify and mitigate a plume of chromium contamination, apparently discharged from a cooling tower during the 1960s through 1972 that was discovered in the regional aquifer in 2006. Detections of other pollutants, including perchlorate, high explosives and nitrates could pose future problems, according to LANL’s most recent Environmental Surveillance Report for 2007, which came out this month.

A slight increase (to 3.71 percent) in non-compliance citations was reported for 2007, which may be attributed to budget and allocation shortfalls from the Department of Energy and congressional appropriations.

In a September presentation to the LANL legislative oversight committee, Stiger reported that 194 documents had been submitted to NMED during the previous year under the Consent Order, including 10 that had met stipulated penalty milestones.

Uncertainty regarding the laboratory’s ability to avoid future stipulated penalties remains, in view of the six-month Continuing Resolution that failed to close the funding gap needed for full compliance.

A story this week, related to environmental budget cuts at the Hanford Site in Washington State, reported that the Department of Energy would be cutting that program from a requested $1.4 billion to something less that $1 billion next year. A letter from the Department of Energy indicated that some 23 cleanup deadlines would be at risk for the current fiscal year.

Los Alamos officials were hopeful for as much as the $245 million included in the Senate version of a DOE appropriation bill that failed to pass earlier this year.

Graham said he was aware of the Hanford situation, but not alarmed.

“I’m encouraged by the outlook for our budgets here,” he said. “We’re being asked to plan for larger budgets. I’m very encouraged by that.”

Graham said his top priority would be to deliver on the regulatory requirements.

“My principal focus is going to be delivering on our commitments and to maintain, and more than that, to promote open and honest communications with our stakeholders,” he said.

Graham has worked at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and at the Hanford Site, after joining Bechtel in 1996. Previously he was with Battelle Memorial Institute at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and with Rockwell International at Hanford.

He has a master's degree and a PhD in geological sciences from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in science from Notre Dame.

In the laboratory’s announcement, Laboratory Director Michael Anasastio paid tribute to advances in the program under Susan Stiger’s direction.

"Under Susan's leadership, the Laboratory has made great strides in its performance under the New Mexico Consent Order, significantly increasing shipments of transuranic waste to WIPP, and strengthening the Laboratory's groundwater monitoring program," he said. "I want to personally thank Susan for putting us on a positive path for the future."