Udall: ‘I was most impressed by the scientists’

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By Garrison Wells

For New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, the takeaway from a whirlwind tour of a clean-up area at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was twofold. He was impressed by the lab’s scientific nature and plans to press for additional funds to continue the lab’s work.
That’s good news for Los Alamos, an economy that is heavily reliant on the lab.
“I was most impressed by the scientists and their work there,” Udall said.
Snaring funds for the cleanup “is always a struggle because you have the base number,” Udall said. “We have to fight for that every year. I think we should be at the base, at least.”
Udall met with lab, Department of Energy and National Nuclear Safety Administration at their office on DP Road where he was given a briefing on projects using Recovery Act funds.
Among other projects was a talk on the lab’s Solar Thermal Storage project by Stephen Obrey. The project is drawing attention among venture capitalists in Washington, D.C., Obrey said.
Technical Area-21, however, was the star of the show. TA-21 is an area where scientists developed a plutonium heat source for the Cassini and Galileo space probes.
Fueled by $212 million in Recovery Act funds, the massive project includes the decontamination and demolishing of 24 buildings, cleaning up the lab’s oldest waste disposal site and drilling 16 groundwater monitoring wells.
The remediation project, the lab said in a brochure, “has stimulated the economy of Northern New Mexico and created or saved almost 450 blue- and white-collar jobs and touched 1,090 lives.”
Since July 2009, $105 million in Recovery Act spending has helped demolish 16 of 24 structures, completion of 14 of the 16 groundwater monitoring wells and plugging and abandoning six old wells.
On the tour, contractors at TA-21 were interrupted by a small white bus and officials dressed in brightly colored vests, construction helmets and glasses.
Preferring to remain stylish, Udall chose to wear his sunglasses.
Despite the intrusion, that day, eight trucks went out with 28 containers of waste, said Gordon Goder, deputy director of the Recovery Act and tour leader.
Udall got to see the insides of huge metal hangars that will help with worker and public safety as the excavation of some of the material takes place.
He also viewed buildings that are awaiting demolition, one large chunk of which officials said will be gone by the end of October.
The goal, officials said, is to clean the land enough for residential usage.

Garrison Wells can be reached at garrison@lamonitor.com