Lab provides update on permit request

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LANL: The public comment deadline on the open detonation permit is Sept. 19

By The Staff

The Los Alamos National Laboratory wants to remove the interim tag from two sites where it houses open detonation units. And in its permit modification request to the New Mexico Environment Department, the lab also wants to close two of its sites.

At Fuller Lodge Tuesday night, lab experts conducted a public meeting, which is a requirement of the permit modification request.

The public can submit comments to NMED until Sept. 19. After that, NMED will review the permit application and respond to public comments before issuing a final decision.

The lab needs the permit modification to fulfill some of its national security missions including:
• Training troops to detect, investigate, and defeat Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)
• Detecting explosives at airports
• Stress, impact, and heat testing of aging, conventional explosives used in nuclear weapons
• Developing safer, “shock insensitive” explosives.
The two sites that they want to make permanent include Point 6, located at TA-39 in Ancho Canyon and the Minie Site, located at TA-36 on the mesa top between Pajarito and Water Canyons.
With the detonations come high-explosive wastes.
The waste comes in various shapes and sizes and high explosives can be granules or plastic-like chunks and various pieces.

“After a test—a heating test, for example—these pieces are no longer as predictable and must be treated responsibly,” said LANL’s David Funk. “LANL’s trained crews take the high explosives waste to one of two remote locations, apply booster explosives, and detonate them in batches that average about 60 pounds each. The explosions completely consume the material, leaving no hazardous materials behind.”

Funk said the explosives are reduced to their basic, non-hazardous components of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water. And while the explosions throw dust into the air, no emissions are detectible outside lab property.

LANL’s Luciana Vigil-Holterman said there were 30 samples taken and were analyzed for dioxins/furans and metals including depleted uranium. Furans are a colorless, flammable, highly volatile liquid with a  boiling pointclose to room temperature. It is toxic and may be carcinogenic, according to Wikipedia. Holterman said the concentrations were all below the short-term screening levels identified by the EPA.

Vigil-Holterman said the lab does more than just air monitoring around the facilities.
In the permit, the lab illustrated a number of other safeguards.
• The lab monitors soil, runoff, and wildlife at each site.
• Residual contaminants are below EPA standards and no harmful effects on wildlife populations have been found.
• Detonations in the lab’s secure, remote area are safer than transporting the material on public roads for similar treatment elsewhere.
• The lab schedules detonations and monitors weather conditions to minimize noise travelling off the property.
• A denial of open detonation would harm national security, with no appreciable benefit to people or the environment.
Other aspects of the permit request include:
• Requests closure of two unused detonation areas and three other units
• Standardizes procedures to industry best practices
• Contains an analysis of alternatives to open detonation
• Contains an environmental baseline analysis

Submit written or verbal comments to John E. Kieling, Program Manager New Mexico Environment Department Hazardous Waste Bureau 2905 Rodeo Park Drive East, Building 1 Santa Fe, N.M., 87505 or email john.kieling@state.nm.us.