LANL to resume shipping waste in September

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Group gets updates on cleanup site on DP Road, older waste barrels

By Tris DeRoma

Members of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities received some answers Friday on key waste disposal concerns at LANL – primarily about Tech Area 21 on DP Road, and when Los Alamos National Laboratory will resume shipping waste off site.


Since February 2014, newly generated waste is stored on site at LANL.

Deputy Assistant Manager of the LANL Site Office for the National Nuclear Security Administration Pete Maggiore told the coalition Friday that LANL will start sending limited shipments to WIPP by September.

Waste shipments stopped when the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, where LANL ships newly generated transuranic and radiological waste, was shuttered for three years following an accident at the site.

The accident was blamed on an improperly packed barrel that came from LANL. While being stored in WIPP’s underground storage chambers, a chemical reaction started within a barrel. The release was blamed on the use of the wrong type of kitty litter used with the radioactive waste. The reaction caused the barrel’s lid to pop off and spread radiological waste throughout the storage area.

WIPP opened in January, but is now only accepting shipments from Idaho and South Carolina.

Coalition member and Los Alamos representative Chris Chandler asked why LANL was taking so long to get the shipments started. Maggiore said that much has changed, as far as regulations since the accident.

“A lot of that also focuses on WIPP’s capability and requirements,” Maggiore said. “Their new waste acceptance criteria is a lot more rigorous than their old waste acceptance requirements. Some of the waste that was previously certified to go to WIPP needs to be looked at again and differently.”

LANL is storing the waste at Tech Area 55. The containers of waste that contain the same mix of kitty litter blamed for the WIPP accident are stored at Tech Area 54 in a special building at a cooler than room temperature conditions while they wait to be remixed and repacked.

Coalition members also wanted to know how cleanup was going at Tech Area 21, where work with plutonium was performed in the past.

The Tech Area 21, located on DP Road, was the site of chemical research for refining plutonium from 1945-1978. Between 2008-2011, waste was removed. Twenty-four buildings were demolished at the site in 2010 and 2011. The project is ongoing.

The Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Deputy Manager Stephen Hoffman told the coalition that they are looking “within the vicinity of five to eight years of completing the project cleanup.
Coalition member Mark Gallegos, who represents Taos, asked what state Tech Area 21 eventually would be restored to when the project was completed.

“Is it going to be for human use, or are there going to be certain restrictions?” Gallegos asked.

“There’s not one single answer because this area we refer to has various areas of impact,” Hoffman said. “We’ll remediate based on the guidance we get from the New Mexico Environment Department. A large part of that area is desired to be returned to Los Alamos County for public use.”