LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Amid renewed interest in the atomic history of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), EM leadership had the opportunity to discuss and highlight the significant progress underway in the legacy cleanup mission at LANL during a visit last week.
EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White and other EM officials met and discussed key cleanup projects with leaders from the Pueblo de San Ildefonso and Los Alamos County. The EM officials also discussed cleanup accomplishments at LANL over the past five years, and the plans for the next stage of work, in events with the Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board (NNMCAB), the Environmental Management Cleanup Forum (EMCF) and a public panel discussion hosted by Los Alamos County.
During the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer oversaw the development of the atomic bomb. Credited with ending World War II, development of the bomb also created a legacy of waste at sites across the United States that EM is now charged with cleaning up.
“In my time in the EM program, one of the things I have really enjoyed is my ability to focus on what has happened over time as part of history. The act of going back and cleaning up the legacy of the past necessarily involves understanding and learning about a lot of that history and why it was important,” White said at the EMCF event.
EM, Local Leaders Tour Groundwater Cleanup, DP Road Projects
As part of last week’s visit, White, EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) Manager Michael Mikolanis and other EM representatives met separately with Pueblo de San Ildefonso Gov. Christopher Moquino, and with representatives from Los Alamos County at Mortandad Canyon to discuss progress underway in addressing groundwater contamination.
One of EM’s key projects at Los Alamos, and of concern to many in the region, is addressing a plume of hexavalent chromium contamination. Based on monitoring and sampling through the operation of the chromium interim measures, current data indicates that groundwater contamination has not moved beyond LANL’s borders, and over the past five years, EM and LANL legacy cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) have treated more than 400 million gallons of contaminated groundwater.
Pueblo de San Ildefonso land borders LANL to the south, with a drinking water supply well close to the LANL site boundary. Currently, EM and Pueblo de San Ildefonso are working to place a second monitoring well on pueblo land to support additional groundwater monitoring efforts.
“We’re committed to protecting the water,” White told San Ildefonso leaders.
White, Mikolanis and N3B President and General Manager Brad Smith also had the opportunity to show Los Alamos County representatives progress at the Middle DP Road site. Cleanup of legacy waste is largely completed, pending verification of confirmatory sampling results. The area, close to the heart of downtown Los Alamos, is a primary economic development effort for Los Alamos County.
‘Dedicated and Talented People’ Behind Cleanup Progress
The legacy cleanup mission at LANL focuses on three primary areas — protecting water supplies, cleaning up contaminated soil and continuing to drive down legacy radioactive waste inventories at LANL by preparing and shipping the material off-site for safe disposal. EM’s major cleanup accomplishments at LANL to date have included:
- Treating more than 420 million gallons of contaminated groundwater from the hexavalent chromium plume;
- Completing 60% of cleanup at more than 2,100 areas of potential contamination;
- Shipping more than 500 cubic meters of transuranic waste to EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant;
- Shipping more than 11,800 cubic meters of low-level and mixed-low-level radioactive waste off-site for disposal; and
- Initiating retrieval and size-reduction activities for a set of corrugated metal pipes containing cemented transuranic waste.
At the EMCF event, Mikolanis outlined the progress EM-LA is making in developing a strategic vision to guide the remaining legacy cleanup work at LANL. The vision is intended to be built from “the ground up” through “robust engagement” with a variety of representatives around LANL, according to Mikolanis. EM-LA is in the process of completing engagement sessions with a variety of officials, pueblo representatives, stakeholders and the public in Los Alamos and surrounding communities.
“I want to highlight that our success, in part, centers on the community support that we have and enjoyed here. That’s dependent on regularly working with our stakeholders, the pueblos, our elected officials, nongovernmental organizations and our regulators to identify their values and priorities,” Mikolanis said. “That feedback will guide us in how we make critical decisions and build the vision on how we’re going to complete the work we have in front of us.”
Also at the EMCF event, White said, “All of the work that is so important to us doesn’t happen without the dedicated and talented people who are willing to devote their careers and their energy to doing a public service that benefits all of us.”
“It takes a village,” Smith said at the NNMCAB meeting. “What people bring, and what people think, is the secret sauce.”
White also thanked the NNMCAB members for their contributions to EM’s cleanup progress at LANL.
“I am grateful for the time and commitment the NNMCAB gives to help EM ensure that a rich and diverse community of members participate and provide recommendations on the legacy cleanup projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory,” White said. “Stakeholder engagement is the cornerstone of our cleanup programs across the EM complex and the NNMCAB is vital to our efforts in New Mexico.”
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