Fraser Lockhart of N3B addresses Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members during their Friday meeting in Espanola. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members heard Friday from Fraser Lockhart, Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Program Manager for N3B, the legacy waste cleanup contractor for Los Alamos National Laboratory, that the contractor is looking forward on some very key issues which it wants the board to be aware of so that they don’t come as a surprise when they happen as part of the normal cleanup process.
Lockhart gave an overview of the contractor’s work and explained that their cleanup is done under two main regulatory requirements, Hazardous Waste Permit from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Consent Order between the state and the Department of Energy which was revised in 2016 and affects the cleanup work most directly. He said work is going on in six of the 17 campaigns established under the Consent Order.
“We are already at the point for FY19 that we’re going to have work in 10 of the 17 campaigns. So the pace is accelerating and as we look at this work we expect that local communities and tribal governments, pueblos will be partners in going through that process. We are mandated certain processes by the Resource and Conservation Recovery Act, NMED and New Mexico law. Those processes require a great deal of public involvement and that’s what we will be getting into. There will be an active public process that is part of moving these programs forward for cleanup,” he said.
Lockhart said the original N3B contract that the company proposed against had them at about the $175 million a year level.
“That funding was increased by Congress for both the FY18 and FY19 budget by $25 to almost $30 million. So that was very useful to us. It has helped us get a running start as the first environmental management company here,” he said.
He said funding is not really constraining work at this point for N3B.
“There may be a point in a couple of years where we get enough of the infrastructure built up, get people trained and some of the processing lines that we need to bring online to be able to process and treat packaged transuranic waste – a lot of those systems that as a new contractor we have to put in place. When we get that behind us then there’s a possibility more money could be put to good use. Right now we’re pretty well in the sweet spot and the funding is not holding us back from any of the work that we might try and do up there. We can only get so many people and so much heavy equipment into some of those canyons and the like. That becomes a constraint as well,” Lockhart said.
He also mentioned that not all the funding comes to N3B, that some of it covers DOE staff, various grants including to NMED and some other expenses that are uniquely paid for directly by the DOE. He said N3B has enough of their share to do what they are being asked to right now.
Lockhart said N3B’s cleanup is for legacy waste back past 1999 and their job is to get all of that dispositioned appropriately. He said N3B knows there is more work that needs to be done by someone and that while it may not be N3B, the ongoing waste that’s being generated will also have to be dispositioned.
“We hope there won’t be too many more release sites because the Laboratory is now being managed under environmental awareness, practices and laws that came around in the 80s and 90s and so we hope that some of the errors that were made back in the 40s, 50s and 60s aren’t repeated, but there could be an event that would need a cleanup,” he said. He added that the Laboratory may want to replace some of their facilities over time and that all those kinds of environmental activities are things the NMED will have some cognizance of under the Hazardous Waste Permit.
“The involvement and engagement that you involve in our mission, the legacy cleanup, is not going to be lost time. Even when we’re done, it’s going to roll on for these other things and so I would hope that awareness would be helpful to you,” Lockhart said. He said the additional cleanup opens up a lot of different opportunities for support to the mission, jobs and careers in the region but also impacts on the region.
“Cleanup often gets looked at from the standpoint of addressing environmental insult, making the environment better, whether there are any risks to the groundwater supply or surface water supply and how that risk and that negative piece might impact someone. We’re going to fix that and make it go away and that’s good. But it’s only a piece of it,” he said.
Lockhart said at some point the community will have to decide how clean they want things to be. He said the immediate response is usually “to pristine, just the way you found it in the first place”.
“There are other factors there because most of the cleanup we do involves contaminated soil. The most common way of cleaning up contaminated soil is to safely pick it up, package it and ship it somewhere else for permanent disposal so now all those trucks full of waste are coming off the hill in some manner. That potential impact to the community, to citizens, is often sort of overlooked when we look at cleanup,” he said. He said when NMED looks at a cleanup decision, they don’t just look at cleanup levels but they also look at the various other impacts.
“Cost is an issue, risk for workers doing the work, impacts to surrounding communities from noise or dust, are issues. All those things get looked at and are some of the things we will be seeking to get feedback on as we wade into the process,” Lockhart said. He said when the legacy waste work is done, there will still be waste and environmental sampling which will be done after cleanup to verify that the cleanup was good and verify that nothing was left behind. He said the verification sampling which is always done as part of DOE cleanups often goes on for many years.
Lockhart said another piece is the beneficial reuse issue which has been experienced as related to TA-21 where several parcels on the north side of the Lab property have been turned Los Alamos County. He said there may be other such opportunities so that there might be discussion on what parcels of property it might make sense to turn over for beneficial use. He said the shipping of transuranic and other waste which is looked at as an impact to the community may also offer an opportunity for businesses or other skills to come forward and support the cleanup in a way that becomes a more positive impact or at least something to counterbalance the negative impact.
“All of these, whether they are jobs, safety, economic development, public and environmental health issues, are impacts that we know you as elected officials have taken on to support and represent your constituency on. We will keep you informed of our plans. It is the business of cleanup. When we start to move it out, it is when we really get going with cleanup, that all of these things are going to start coming forward as issues to discuss and we want you to be as well prepared as possible for when that starts to happen,” he concluded.