Coalition: Fully fund lab cleanup

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Lab: The focus is currently on sealing toxic waste at Tech Area 54

By Whitney Jones

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is calling on Congress to provide full funding to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s toxic waste clean-up efforts.
Members of the group recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they met with members of the New Mexico congressional delegation and federal Department of Energy officials to request adequate funding be provided as part of the fiscal year 2013 budget.
LANL is already bracing for a $300 million cut in funding — an 11 percent reduction — by FY13. And in order to fill the existing budget gap in the fiscal year 2012 budget, LANL announced a voluntary layoff program. Those employees will be notified Monday, if their application for separation has been accepted, and will leave the lab by April 1.
LANL Principal Associate Director of Global Security Terry Wallace said while the lab isn’t ready to release a specific figure on the number of people who leave under the program. He said the possibility of them having to move to involuntary layoffs is small. The lab aimed to shed between 400 and 800 employees under the program. The lab had a similar purging in 2008.
As part of the administration’s FY13 budget proposal, funding for the lab’s environmental remediation project was set at $239,143,000. That’s up from the lab’s current operating budget of $188,561,000.
Los Alamos County Council Chair Sharon Stover said that money would not only fund additional clean-up efforts at the lab’s World War II-era dump sites, but it also provides much needed jobs to Northern New Mexicans.
“Funding for clean-up is paramount,” Stover said. “Our citizens’ livelihood is directly related to that.”
Clean-up efforts are currently focused on sealing toxic waste at Tech Area 54. Under the lab’s Transuranic Waste Campaign, the lab is supposed to clean up 3,706 cubic meters of waste by June 30, 2014. The project’s schedule requires the lab have cleaned up approximately 700 cubic meters of waste by the end of the fiscal year, 2,000 cubic meters by the end of fiscal year 2013 and an additional 1,300 cubic meters by the end of 2014.
George Rael, Environmental Projects manager for the NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office said, as of March 23, the lab was shipping out its 83rd barrel of waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, in southeast New Mexico.
State Energy Department Secretary David Martin said without the funding,  those cleanup efforts will be stymied.
Rael said Recovery Act money shored up the remediation budget immensely, but has now run dry.
“We’re back to base funding now,” he said.    
Martin said the lab only receives about 4.2 percent of the Energy Department’s funding, but the lab wants more of the pie — close to 4.8 or five percent. He said it’s important to keep pushing federal officials for that increased funding to demonstrate the high importance the cleanup efforts to the region, which officials are already trying to renegotiate with the lab.
Martin said there’s no strategy yet, should the lab not get the requested funding regarding its ability to meet its June 30, 2014 deadline, calling it “hypothetical.”
Martin said Congress will likely not pass a budget until December and that a continuing resolution will continue flat funding at $188 million for the cleanup efforts.
Dan Bacon with the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety watchdog organization, said the state was supposed to have the site cleaned up in the 1980s and has merely pushed off mandate until recently.
The $239 million figure requested from the federal government is a drop in the bucket to the estimated overall budget for all environmental remediation for the lab, which Bacon said is closer to $29 billion. He said the state and federal government have been dragging their feet in the clean-up efforts because of the price tag. He said the lag demonstrates the government’s funding priorities.
LANL is the largest employer in Northern New Mexico and provides more than 13,000 jobs.
Communities involved in the Coalition include Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties and the City of Santa Fe as well as the City of Española.