State, LANL partner in radioactive removal

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Waste transported > Barrel of highly radioactive material discovered in Santa Fe now stored safely at LANL

By Tris DeRoma

Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn held a press conference Thursday at the Los Alamos Laboratory to announce the successful removal and transport of a drum of radioactive material from Santa Fe to the lab.
The drum was discovered in May 2015, during an inspection of a warehouse by NMED. The warehouse, owned by Thermo Fisher, a company that manufactures medical instruments and smoke detectors, is located on Airport Road in Santa Fe.
The drum contained 8.63 curies of Americium, a highly radioactive material used in the manufacture of smoke detectors.
According to officials the drum had been stored at the warehouse for over 10 years. Though the material was stabilized and in a secure location, the warehouse is located in a residential area next to a church and a school.
“This material is not waste,” Flynn said. “It was stable and secure, but it was in a location we believed was not ideal, since it was in a residential area next to a school.”
LANL agreed to accept the radioactive waste and the state negotiated with Thermo Fisher to transport it at no cost to taxpayer, Flynn said. NMED estimated the cost of the operation would be more than $6 million, but most of that would be in transporting and securing the material.
Martinez congratulated all the agencies involved in the safe removal of the drum to Los Alamos.
“I’m delighted to recognize the teamwork between the Los Alamos Environment Department and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as many other partners we have,” she said. “Preventing radiation contamination requires a proactive approach and vigilant oversight by our Environment Department.”
Flynn said once the barrel was discovered, his department started immediately working on ways to safely remove it from the residential area to a more safe and secure location.
“It was brought to my attention that we had a small, but significant quantity of radioactive material that was located in Santa Fe, right near a head start program at an elementary school and some small businesses,” Flynn said. “While it was stable and secure, there was not an appropriate pathway for ultimately disposing of this material,” Flynn said.
Martinez said a settlement was eventually reached with Thermo Fisher, where the company would carry the entire expense of removing the material to LANL.
“They worked out a settlement together to remove the dangerous material and safely transport it to a secure facility at no cost to the taxpayer,” she said. “That’s really important. Our priority was safety, and that’s very important, too.”
The next step in the process is for the lab to determine the best use of the rare material.
“This material can be potentially reused by the laboratory. They’re currently researching potential applications for this highly valuable material,” Flynn said.