Next steps for legacy waste cleanup at LANL delineated

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DOE > 3706 campaign is on target for completion in June

By Arin McKenna

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities had a star-studded cast of officials at its meeting last Friday, including Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan, New Mexico Environmental Department Secretary Ryan Flynn, Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franco, Angela Marcucci, director of policy for the office of Gov. Susan Martinez and Pueblo of Jemez Governor Joshua Madalena.
A key topic of conversation was the near completion of the 3706 campaign to clean up transuranic (TRU) waste at Technical Area 63.
McMillan and Flynn were pleased that the DOE is scheduled to meet the goal of completing cleanup by the June 30 deadline, despite two major obstacles: the government shutdown last fall and the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where the waste was being shipped.
“When we were first negotiating the framework agreement, I was the lead negotiator for the state in those discussions, and they were some difficult negotiations,” Flynn said.
“At one point I said to my colleagues on the other side of the table when we were talking about the consequences and what the deadline meant, my exact words were, ‘Come hell or high water, you’re going to have to remove this waste from the Hill by the end of June.’ And I didn’t realize how difficult that would be.”
Flynn credits the success of the project to having a clearly defined goal, which not only helped focus resources, but helped provide appropriating committees in Washington, D.C., with defined goals and demonstrative progress.
“One of the real benefits of this campaign approach is that success has helped instill confidence in the appropriators that we are a good investment. We do have a plan and a clear goal and we’re making progress on this goal that we can demonstrate to you,” Flynn said. “And as a direct result of that, we’ve seen funding steadily increase.”
Flynn plans to utilize that process in the next phases of legacy waste cleanup.
“All the positives from this process have resulted from this really simple idea, of having one clearly defined goal with clear deadlines, clear milestones and having everyone rally around that goal,” Flynn said.
“And we’ve been able to see that approach, I think, work for the State of New Mexico.”
Flynn reassured those who believe the Energy Department would lose its leverage over the DOE by renegotiating the consent order reached several years ago. Flynn stated that the consent order still stands, that it is simply a matter of prioritizing the next phases of cleanup and redefining a new framework agreement.
“There’s a scope of work that is clearly set out in the consent order. That scope of work indicates what needs to be cleaned up. That scope of work will not change. It cannot change, and I’m telling you that the state would absolutely never change the scope of work,” Flynn said.
“The contamination that was caused by legacy operations at the lab needs to be cleaned up. Period.”
Flynn has asked DOE to develop a series of campaigns for the remaining scope of work for the state to consider and prioritize. He also plans an unprecedented step: involving the public in determining priorities for those campaigns. The previous agreement was negotiated between the state, the Doe and the contractor, with no public involvement.
“Traditionally we haven’t taken input on how we’re going to go about sequencing the work, and I think it would be very important for the state to understand what the priorities of the public are, what the communities’ priorities are, and how we sequence the remaining work that has to be done,” Flynn said.
Flynn also wants to see campaigns that consolidate work wherever possible. He saw wasted energy and resources with the 3706 campaign, as work would stop at one area to address an issue in another area, ramping up and down for each move.
While a new sequence is being determined, Flynn has what he calls “interim” priorities. One is cleaning up the chromium plume threatening both groundwater and the aquifer and the other is putting better systems in place to protect Santa Fe’s Buckman Diversion Project.
“Those are two issues that I believe are very high risk issues that we made some good progress on, but I would like to see the Department of Energy ramp up their efforts on addressing the chromium contamination, and making a really aggressive push to clean that up,” Flynn said.
“Why is that important? First and foremost, it threatens groundwater, and anything that threatens our groundwater is something that the state takes very, very seriously, and something that we believe is one of our highest priorities.”
Flynn added that cleaning up the chromium plume is likely to take more than 10 years, based on his experience with other groundwater contamination issues.
The state will prioritize risk in determining the sequence for the remaining cleanup.
“Moving forward, we continue to use a risk-based approach, where we look at what’s going to threaten human health and the environment, and how can we clean those bigger risks up as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Flynn said.
Scott Kovac, operations and research director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, asked Flynn to also incorporate public input into how the cleanup is accomplished, as well as in prioritizing the sequence.
Follow the Los Alamos Monitor for more on McMillan’s address to the coalition.