Among the participants of a 2022 Waste Management Symposia panel session focused on EM efforts within the Justice40 Initiative were Nicole Nelson-Jean, EM associate principal deputy assistant secretary for field operations, and Michael Mikolanis, manager of the EM Los Alamos Field Office.
Nicole Nelson-Jean, EM associate principal deputy assistant secretary for field operations, and Michael Mikolanis, manager of the EM Los Alamos Field Office.

PHOENIX – The Justice40 Initiative provides a unique opportunity to enhance the way the EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) approaches legacy cleanup decisions, EM-LA Manager Michael Mikolanis said during a panel session at the 2022 Waste Management Symposia last week.

The session focused on EM-LA efforts within Justice40, an initiative to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. Selected as one of five DOE pilot programs under the initiative, EM-LA has begun stakeholder engagement efforts for its role in Justice40. Implementing efforts, including executing a stakeholder engagement plan, for the Justice40 Initiative at Los Alamos is an EM 2022 priority.

Chaired by Nicole Nelson-Jean, EM associate principal deputy assistant secretary for field operations, the session included panelists Mikolanis; Kim Lebak, president of EM-LA cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B); Raymond Martinez, lieutenant governor of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso; and Brooke Baker, field technician for N3B’s waste operations and recent N3B apprentice program graduate.

Panelists discussed Justice40 activities related to EM-LA legacy waste cleanup, community and pueblo engagement, as well as workforce training and development. Mikolanis shared EM-LA’s recent stakeholder outreach on the initiative and discussed future plans.

“EM-LA is actively engaging with stakeholders, pueblos in northern New Mexico, and the public through ongoing listening sessions,” Mikolanis said. “The feedback, values and opinions we receive from this continued dialogue will be incorporated into the strategic vision we are developing to prioritize work scope and end states for legacy cleanup campaigns.”

Pueblo de San Ildefonso members are concerned about the adverse effects from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) legacy pollution created by nuclear weapons production and research during the Manhattan Project and Cold War era. The pueblo is located adjacent to LANL.

“I often explain to the elders in my pueblo that we need to be part of the solution to clean up the land — we want to help and be part of the workforce that is cleaning up the contamination. It is important to play a role in what we want to see for the future,” said Martinez, who is director of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso Department of Environmental and Cultural Preservation.

Workforce training and development will play a critical role in EM-LA’s implementation of Justice40.

“N3B’s workforce development program wholly aligns with the Justice40 Initiative, and it’s exciting to think how we might further collaborate on this federal effort in the future,” Lebak said. “We actively partner with northern New Mexico communities affected by environmental impacts from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s wartime nuclear research and weapons development.”

Lebak noted that 55% of N3B’s workforce development funding benefited economically disadvantaged communities in fiscal 2021.

“We cover tuition costs at local colleges and universities to advance students through the educational pipeline, and we provide on-the-job training so students acquire skills they need to become successful in their jobs” Lebak said. “While participating in the program, students earn a competitive salary and benefits that allow them to prosper in their home communities and bolster local economies.”

Baker shared her experiences from that N3B program and what the opportunity has meant for her from a career and personal perspective.

“It is important to me to clean up the environment and the N3B Nuclear Operator Apprentice Program allowed me to be cross-trained in several areas. This program has given me the opportunity to gain a career along with an education, while also receiving on-the-job training,” said Baker. “I am currently in the process of completing my associate degree at the end of this semester. There are opportunities out there for members of my community to bring structure to life and foster hope for their personal future.”

Watch here to learn more about N3B’s Nuclear Operator Apprenticeship Program.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is getting our younger members to continue their careers by working at the pueblo,” Martinez said. “Training and workforce development programs focused on remediation and reduction of legacy pollution that provide an incentive for our youth to come back to work at the pueblo would create an opportunity for us to fulfill our community vision of protecting and preserving the environment.”