Light on the landfill

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Metal recycling gathers rewards

By Roger Snodgrass

There is an art to saving metal from old buildings and there are unexpected benefits from recycling that can be felt at a distance.


In a $212 million project, Los Alamos National Laboratory has pulled 136 tons of recyclable metal out of the wreckage.

It comes from copper piping and the wiring in bus work for electrical substations. It comes from the metal in rebar.

“The way they get that out is bashing and shaking the rebar,” said a spokesman for Los Alamos National Laboratory.” “It goes to the skill of people running the excavating equipment.”

Fred de Sousa of the LANL Communications Office said the scavenging included steel beams, metal storage tanks for nitrogen, sheet metal and duct work for ventilation.

“One of the most interesting items was a thousand pound diesel generator,” he said. “That has ended up in a 40-bed nonprofit hospital that didn’t have a backup generator.”

The recycling emphasis for the project has influenced the process for gutting the buildings before they are completely torn down. Because they were built in the 40s and 50s, many of the buildings contain asbestos, which the lab contractors remove, package and ship separately, according to a story in “The News Flash,” the laboratory’s newsletter on the project.

Lab officials estimated that they extracted an extra 16 tons of metal from a single large building where they expected to find 90 tons.

“Recycling metal from a demolition project reduces costs and cuts the amount of waste that goes to a landfill,” said Al Chaloupka, LANL’s demolition program director in a press release Tuesday.

“We put a lot of effort into getting metal separated from the debris and making sure it isn’t contaminated so it can be recycled.”

Department of Energy regulations allow recycling only for “clean” metal, which has never been used in a nuclear facility.

“Minimizing waste is an important part of our cleanup responsibilities,” said George Rael, Environmental Projects manager for the Los Alamos Site Office of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “It’s just as important as safely getting the waste to licensed disposal facilities.”

“The program is not new,” said de Sousa, but every ton or every bin that doesn’t go to landfill is a good thing. This would have taken 30 containers worth, out of land fills and put them into recycling instead.

Los Alamos began using Recovery Act funds provided through DOE’s Office of Environmental Management to demolish 21 Cold War-era buildings in July 2009. The first nine uncontaminated buildings have now come down. The project is located in the Lab’s historic Technical Area 21, at the east end of DP Road.

Also known as the DP site, TA-21 supported plutonium production in the 1950s and 1960s as well as important nonweapons research.

De Sousa said the diesel generator found its way to the hospital in North Dakota through a federal salvage program that advertises excess equipment to other laboratories, other Department of Energy facilities and then to state governments.

“It was a very workable piece of equipment, only a few hours on it.

“Since nobody needed it internally or at another facility, apparently North Dakota picked up on it,” he said. “They’re going to get a generator for the cost of shipping.”