Stimulus money ready to go

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By Roger Snodgrass

After a “ready” and a “set,” Los Alamos National Laboratory announced a “go” Wednesday to begin spending funds available for environmental cleanup under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“We got the money,” said George Rael, assistant manager for Environmental Operations at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos Site Office.

That means DOE headquarters has reviewed all project documents and feels comfortable that Los Alamos is set up to get the work done.

“The Recovery Act will help change the skyline of Los Alamos, while creating jobs in the community,” Rael said.

Some $212 million are available for approved projects until Sept. 30, 2011. The lab’s current estimate is that the stimulus funds will save or create more than 200 jobs.

Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the manager for the laboratory, began billing hours to a recovery act code this week.

Under previously announced plans, most of the money will go to clean up Manhattan Project sites along DP Road in the northwest sector of the county.

Some $79 million has been budgeted for demolition and decontamination of a number of buildings and structures involved in plutonium research and processing. Another $87.8 million is allotted to cleaning up one of the first hazardous waste disposal areas, known as MDA-B, dating back to the period from 1944-48.

But in a new description of the plan, $41 million of stimulus money will be devoted to drilling water monitoring wells and catching up on some additional compliance work called for under the environmental consent order with the state.

Paul Huber, LANL’s program director for water stewardship said this change was still going through the approval process.

The lab had planned several projects under its basic plan and the New Mexico Environment Department has additional requests to characterize the groundwater situation under the major hazardous waste repository, known as Technical Area 54.

Among the plans is one additional monitoring well related to the finding of chromium contamination in the regional aquifer not far from a county water production well. The contamination has not been detected at the county well, but NMED has pushed for greater definition on the “nature and extent” of the plume that was discovered in Mortandad Canyon. Measurements as high as 16 times the New Mexico drinking water standard have been recorded there.

The chromium, thought to have been discharged from the main administrative area of the laboratory before 1972, is now believed to have found a “rapid pathway” through what was once considered impermeable rock, miles away from where it was discharged hundreds of feet below the surface into the aquifer.

“We’re starting to feel that we have that bounded,” Huber said. “But we want to check one area that would be a side gradient and close that loop. We suspect there is nothing there, but we’d like to get a good data point there to confirm or deny that the plume doesn’t move off in that direction.”

A remaining question would be to see if the plume is moving. There was some evidence in the ongoing investigation that the chromium plume is stationary.

“It’s now a matter of monitoring change,” he said, “to see if it’s the same, dwindles or increases. That tells us something.”

Another piece of the well activity that can be completed within the timeframe of the recovery act has to do with plugging six old test wells that were due to be plugged and abandoned, Huber added.

Two master contracts are in the works with $100 million capacity, Rael said, the first for the demolition and decontamination work and a second for the waste disposal. After the D&D contract is awarded, the laboratory will host a business event, so that other businesses can network for some of the work.

The stimulus program plans to hold a public meeting Aug. 18 at Fuller Lodge from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., according to laboratory spokesperson Fred deSousa.