Waste staging project gets initial nod

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By Carol A. Clark

The Department of Energy has approved the preliminary design of a new radioactive waste staging facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The facility will replace several buildings and fabric domes at Technical Area 54, which must be closed and remediated by 2015 under the Consent Order agreement with the state of New Mexico.
“Technical Area 54 will close, but LANL’s mission continues; this facility will be safer for workers and the public, it consolidates our operations and it will be more cost efficient,” said Craig Leasure, deputy principal associate director of LANL’s weapons program.”
The transuranic (TRU) waste facility will be a staging area for newly generated waste, which by law must go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant WIPP) near Carlsbad.
Since 1944, LANL has disposed of at least 17.5 million cubic feet of hazardous and radioactive wastes on-site at 24 officially designated material disposal areas, according to the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear watchdog group.
TRU waste is waste comprised of items such as gloves, clothing and lab equipment contaminated with elements heavier than uranium and above certain quantities.
“This facility is part of a coordinated set of construction projects anchored by the CMRR nuclear facility,” LASG Executive Director Greg Mello said.
“There’s no EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for this set of activities including this new waste staging facility – and although the impacts of this facility were analyzed as part of LANL’s site-wide environmental impact statement – the cumulative impacts of this project and several others in the Pajarito Corridor will be far greater than have been disclosed.”
LANL’s new four-acre waste staging complex is planned for a restricted area at TA-63 and will include multiple staging buildings, an operations center and a concrete pad for mobile waste characterization equipment, according to a LANL news release.
Workers will perform much the same verifications of TRU waste that now take place at TA-54, including high-energy neutron counting, which detects the amount of radioactivity within given containers.
TRU waste would be packaged where generated throughout various lab sites, then characterized and certified for shipping at the new facility, and finally loaded for shipping at the current TRU shipping facility.
The new facility will require modifying LANL’s hazardous waste permit.
“We’ll work closely with the New Mexico Environment Department to ensure we’re meeting their expectations,” Leasure said.
The project cost based on the conceptual design is an estimated $85 million, with a projected range between $71 million and $124 million.
After preliminary and final designs are approved, the construction will occur in two phases including the site infrastructure and facility construction.
The project completion date is projected for December 2015.

Carol A. Clark can be reached at lanews@lamonitor.com