Legislators check on cleanup

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By Roger Snodgrass

George Rael was just beginning his prepared presentation to a legislative committee when one of the senators interrupted him to make sure he would include a report about “the relationship” with the state regulators.Rael manages environmental operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s local site office.

He was about to explain that he had 16 people working on the cleanup program at the lab and was planning to hire another 10 people in the next year.

The cleanup program and the Consent Order between the laboratory’s managers and the state government form the basis of the relationship that Sen. Phil Griego was asking about.  Griego, D-L.A., Mora, Sand, S.M., S.F. and Taos, is the chairman of the LANL legislative oversight committee that met at the Research Park in Los Alamos Wednesday.

“We were not doing so well with our relationship,” Rael said, looking back a couple of years.

“We worked through those issues,” he added. “And from my perspective, it’s a lot better. We let our hair down. We communicate our issues.”

One issue that has dominated those discussions over the last year, he said, has had to do with the budget.

“There is not a meeting with (Environment Secretary Ron) Curry or (Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief James) Bearzi, when funding is not a problem,” Rael said.

In a companion presentation, LANL’s Associate Director, Environmental Programs, Susan Stiger listed some recent positive developments and accomplishments.

Among them, she mentioned the fact that LANL has submitted 194 documents to NMED over the last year related to the Consent Order, including 10 that met stipulated penalty milestones.

She said the program had actually managed to recover five months of schedule on three critical Consent Order milestones that might have been subject to penalties because of funding-related delays from last year.

Of particular note, she said, was a special $20 million appropriation, included in an emergency defense spending bill, mainly to complete eight deep monitoring wells that were added to the Consent Order for groundwater monitoring.

“Pressure from you and others is starting to help,” Stiger said to the committee members.

Stiger credited support from the wider community for improving prospects for federal funding, noting that the House proposal for next year is nearly $40 million over the administration’s request and the Senate version, at $245 million is even higher.

She said the groundwater monitoring program plans to add about 18 new deep monitoring wells over the next several years, mainly focused on investigating chromium contamination that has been detected in the regional aquifer.

Not all the news was good. She said she had just learned that the crew on one of the newly started wells was not going to be able to recover some equipment that had been lost down the bore hole.

“We’re going to have to redrill from scratch,” she said.

As the session continued into the afternoon, the legislators also heard about some of the laboratory’s economic development programs.

Duncan McBranch, principal associate director for science, technology and engineering, gave an overview of the laboratory’s technology transfer mission and described in detail the Technological Research Collaborative. Steven Girrens, technology transfer division leader, spoke about some of the other entrepreneurial initiatives.

There were also reports on the small business and business mentoring programs.