NMED Holds Hearing On Groundwater Discharge Permit For LANL Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility

IMG_6003Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, left, and CCNS attorney Lindsey Lovejoy leave the NMED hearing Thursday afternoon. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.comIMG_5980

A New Mexico Environment Department hearing on a groundwater discharge permit for the Los Alamos National Laboratory Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility was held at Fuller Lodge Thursday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com


New Mexico Environment Department hearing officer Richard Virtue heard from multiple witnesses Thursday at Fuller Lodge  in Los Alamos during a day-long hearing on the Groundwater Discharge Permit for the Los Alamos National Laboratory Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF).

Virtue is expected to submit his final report to NMED Secretary James C. Kenney in February and if Kenney signs off on it, the permit would become effective immediately for a five-year period.

Robert Beers, who serves as technical support to Triad National Security, LLC, and was the single point of contact for many years between LANL and the NMED Groundwater Quality Bureau, testified extensively on the history of the discharge permit which LANL first applied for in August 1996. In 2011, NMED requested a new, comprehensive and updated permit application and in 2012, LANL submitted a second application.

In May of 2017, NMED issued draft permit DP-1132 and following a public hearing in August 2018, issued DP-1132. Last June the permit was remanded to NMED for a new hearing.

Draft permit DP-1132 covers future discharges of treated effluent from the RLWTF through the Solar Evaporation Tank System, the Mechanical Evaporation System and through Outfall 051 which is permitted as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Beers discussed the WMRM tanks for influent storage, the soil moisture monitoring system, a reverse osmosis system that has been installed, well monitoring systems that are in place and other systems that have been added with the goal of protecting the groundwater.

Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety testified that opponents of DP-1132 believe that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is the appropriate regulatory vehicle for NMED to use for the RLWTF because the facility “manages, treats, handles and stores hazardous waste”.

“The Water Quality Act is not as protective to human health and the environment for a facility located in an active seismic zone. We know that there has been surface faulting in the last 1,400 which is like the blink of an eye in geologic time,” Arends said. “The concentration of nuclear facilities in that area raise additional concerns. If you look at the model for the (Chemical and Metallurgic Replacement Research Facility) you will  see that some people made the decision not to build the building in that area.”

She said CCNS is concerned about many things.

“This administrative record is 14,000 pages long and there is a number of issues depending on what your focus is. But I believe your concern is public health and safety and in response we believe that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is the appropriate regulatory vehicle for the NMED to regulate this facility,” Arends.

Also speaking in opposition to the issuance of the permit, Emily Arasim called for the application of the RCRA regulations.

“After all the pain and danger our communities have been subjected to over decades due to the actions of LANL, in my opinion the very least that should be done by LANL at this point is to willingly comply with the most stringent possible regulations on this facility. Approving and adopting the groundwater permit as is will allow the Lab wiggle room to endanger our waters, our land and communities and at this point this is just simply unacceptable,” she said. “As a young person from New Mexico I am heartbroken to think that LANL is continuing to fight so hard with us and go through these complicated and dramatic proceedings over and over again against the best interest of our communities. We’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary. We’re asking for a hazardous waste permit on a facility that generates hazardous waste.”

Kathy Sanchez, an elder from the Pueblo of San Ildefonso representing Tewa Women United, also opposed the issuance of the permit.

“The ultimate goal is to not have nuclear war weapons facilities within our sacred lands. In the meantime we do need regulations and a groundwater permit does not regulate the business that the water is going through a radioactive liquid waste treatment facility. There is another approach to permitting that NMED can do, and I would recommend they do, as opposed to continuing with the potential for release,” she said.

Steve Pullen, manager of the Pollution Prevention Section of the NMED Groundwater Quality Bureau testified that he supports the issuance of DP-1132 with the numerous changes that have been introduced. He said the permit would provide protection for public health and the environment and meet statutory and regulatory requirements. He said the permit would provide oversight for the RLWTF and minimize the potential for adverse impact to the groundwater.