LANL celebrates 1,000th TRU Waste Shipment to WIPP

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By John Severance

Gov. Susana Martinez was in attendance Tuesday but there was another governor that was just as thrilled to commemorate the 1,000th shipment of transuranic (TWU) waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
San Ildefonso Governor Terry Aguilar, whose pueblo borders the lab, had the distinction of being on hand for the first shipment back in 1999.


“We can throw a rock across this area,” Aguilar said Tuesday at the TA-54 site. “This is important because this is our land and our people. People live here and cherish the land.”

The domes where the waste was stored above ground inside Area G at TA-54 remains an eyesore for the pueblo.

“But we cherish the fact that this waste is being removed,” Aguilar said.

The celebration was for the 1,000th shipment, but actually it was the 1,014th shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Lab director Charlie McMillan said, “They asked me if they should stop at 1,000 and I said, ‘no, keep going.’ It’s great to b ahead of schedule.”

Federal, state, and county officials also were on hand for the celebration.

And the event also happened to fall on the first anniversary of the Las Conchas Fire, which threatened the lab and the Los Alamos townsite.

“On the anniversary of Northern New Mexico’s largest fire, we are pleased to celebrate this milestone with the Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory,” Martinez said. “Permanently disposing of the waste stored above ground at the laboratory is one of the state’s top environmental priorities and this accomplishment marks significant progress.”

It was the fire, which came within 3.5 miles of Area G that accelerated the decision to get the waste off the Hill. The Department of Energy, New Mexico Environment Department and the lab reached a framework agreement that would remove 3,706 cubic meters of TRU Waste by June 30, 2014.

“We are running a little ahead of schedule, which is a good thing,” said Dan Cox, the deputy associate director for Environmental Programs.

Since October 2011, LANL has sent 147 shipments to WIPP.

Lab officials call it the “LANL 3,706 Transuranic Waste Campaign.”

So how much is 3,706 cubic meters?

It’s a lot. A cubic meter is a unit of measurement for volume. The 3,706 cubic meters translates to roughly 130,876.154 cubic feet.

Cox has said the waste is classified into three categories. Seventy percent of the waste is in oversized containers, 20 percent is in drums and 10 percent is in standard waste boxes.

Officials at the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office have said it was not possible for DOE to meet the Consent Order by 2015. State officials have refused to negotiate the end of the Consent Order, but both sides have worked on prioritizing its waste shipment goals. The Consent Order between NMED and the lab was signed on March 1, 2005. The Order provides the timetable and requirements for environmental clean-up of hazardous constituents for the laboratory.

But the talk of the Consent Order was on the backburner Tuesday and it was all about celebrating getting the TRU waste off the hill.

“We congratulate Los Alamos National Laboratory on the steady progress it has made removing legacy transuranic waste from the laboratory,” said Frank Marcinowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Waste Management for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management.

TRU waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil and other items contaminated with radioactive material, mostly plutonium. Transuranic elements such as plutonium have an atomic number greater than uranium, so they are labeled transuranic, for “beyond uranium” on the periodic table of elements.

About 90 percent of the current TRU waste inventory is a result of decades of nuclear research and weapons production at the lab and is often referred to as “legacy” waste.

“This important milestone would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of many people at the laboratory,” McMillan said. “We also appreciate the support of our partners at the Department of Energy and WIPP, as well as direction from the New Mexico Environment Department, as we continue to safely and efficiently dispose of this waste.”In addition

to Martinez, Aguilar, McMillan and Marcinowski, other speakers at the event included Kevin Smith, manager of the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office and Sharon Stover, Los Alamos County Council chair.

“Los Alamos County is taking the lead and being proactive to ensure that environmental clean-up issues get the full attention and funding that they deserve, to the benefit of all of Northern New Mexico,” Stover said. “To that end, we have reached out over the last year to our regional neighbors and joined together to present a unified message. We are proud of the fact that we have successfully launched the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.”
 The coalition made a trip to Washington to call on various lawmakers and lobby for more funding for environmental cleanup.

“We visited with members of the congressional delegation, DOE and NNSA about our top priorities,” Stover said.  “The Coalition asked them to provide full funding for the laboratory to protect jobs and remediate legacy waste.  Recently the Lab received word that additional environmental clean-up funding is slated in the budget as much as an additional $50M, but more is needed.”

Stover then recognized Aguilar.

“We both share borders with the national laboratory, and what happens at the lab affects both of us. I know that both the Governor and I shared the same concerns for the Pueblo’s people and their sacred lands when the Las Conchas wildfire threatened Area G one year ago, and it points back to the reason that this type of volatile waste needs to be shipped out of Los Alamos and safely disposed at WIPP,” she said.

Aguilar then probably summed it up best.

“We enjoy seeing the waste go beyond our exterior boundary,” Aguilar said. “It’s something to celebrate.”