Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze speaks at a recent meeting of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Interim Measure has begun on the eastern boundary of the chromium plume at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) Manager Doug Hintze recently told the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board.
Hintze initially reviewed the accomplishments of legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B since the start of the Legacy Cleanup Contract 18 months ago and then provided a picture of the overall legacy waste cleanup efforts at LANL.
On the latter, Hintze said that there were originally 2,100 legacy sites that were identified to be cleaned up.
“We’re now down to about 950 of those. When we talk about those certificates of completion, there’s a lot that we still have to go through in the process to get them. Those 2,100 sites that we have to clean up in the Consent Order were divided into 17 campaigns. We’re working on 11 of the 17 simultaneously,” he said.
Hintze told the board that EM-LA takes the baseline for the scope of work they are going to implement and meets with the New Mexico Environment Department each year.
“We sit down with the state in the July timeframe. The milestones are developed for the execution year based on the funding that we have. When we start developing these milestones we have a pretty good idea of the funding we’re going to get so we can concentrate on field work, not paperwork,” he said.
Hintze thanked those in attendance and the board because over the past year, he said, the President’s budget has been about $195 million and Congress has appropriated $220 million.
“That’s great recognition of that great support advocacy because cleanup is good and the faster and the more money we have, the faster that you can clean up. We want to thank everyone that’s involved in that – Congressional delegation, councils, coalitions like this,” he said.
Hintze noted that he has briefed the RCLC board several times on the chromium plume and the interim measures to stabilize it so it doesn’t migrate off Lab property. He said chromium is EM-LA’s highest priority.
“Our first effort was to stabilize that plume so our most important monitoring well is just north of San Ildefonso. We started the interim measure on that southern boundary to make sure that we could arrest that plume. In FY2019, 57 million gallons of chromium-contaminated water were treated and there was a significant decrease in chromium levels near that boundary,” Hintze said. “The latest results show 45 ppb which is under the state standard of 50 ppb.”
He said the results confirm that the interim measure is effective.
“We had to stop it for a while in order to do some other infrastructure and we saw the chromium levels rebound to above 50 ppb. It’s back in operation and we just got permission to start up on the eastern side and that side is closest to the water supply well for Los Alamos County,” Hintze said.
The interim measure will continue as the final remedy is developed. Hintze said pump and treat is not the answer but could be part of the final remedy which will be figured out over the next couple of years.
Hintze told the board the interim measure is designed to stabilize the plume to 50 ppb and to stop its migration. He said that the chromium “is not coming down in a big shower”.
“It’s actually coming down in three fingers. That allows us to say that when we want to hit the greatest concentration that’s where we want to hit it from,” he said.
He said permission was received from the state to start on the eastern boundary. The motion of the plume is from the northwest to the southeast in the aquifer and EM-LA is hoping to stabilize it on the southern and eastern edges so that they then can turn their attention into the concentration levels.
“The last thing you want to do is come up with a remedy that’s worse for the environment than what’s there. Stabilization is where we’re at,” he said.
Hintze also addressed Technical Area 21, which is located off DP Road in Los Alamos, saying that this year more than 1,400 cubic meters of rubble from there had been shipped to Pit 38 in Area G. He said under public law that area will eventually be transferred over to Los Alamos County. Most of the buildings have been torn down and there remain slabs and pipes to be taken out.
“We have a couple of Material Disposal Areas there where they disposed of radioactive waste and we have to figure out what they’re going to do with those.
Hintze noted that 16 legacy transuranic waste shipments were sent to WIPP in FY2019. He said two nuclear waste remediation process lines were started and 200 legacy waste containers were remediated. More than 1,500 cubic meters of mixed low level and hazardous waste were shipped and more than 3,000 waste characterization activities were completed.
“We are working as a site with the Triad side to make sure that the shipment is maximized. In our view we’re successful if each one of these shipments goes off with 42 drums because that means the most waste goes off the hill the quickest,” he said.
Hintze said EM-LA has 17 Consent Order partimilestones in FY2020. He said a lot is done with $220 million so there is a complete baseline that has all the scope and the associated costs.
“These 17 milestones are just the specific things that need to be done to get to the final end state. Some people get confused people and think we’re only doing 17 things. No, we’re doing hundreds, thousands of activities every year. It’s just that these are those particularly important ones,” he said.
Hintze also discussed the public outreach forums that were held last summer in Los Alamos, Espanola and Santa Fe. He said instead of doing things by “decide and defend” where the experts would say what was needed to clean up, in reality things work a lot better when you go out to the communities and present the challenges and the options available, and what the risks are.
“We’re cleaning up not just for today but for future generations,” he said.
Hintze said community values workshops will be held in the community to discuss the value of things people hold dear.
“The community involvement is to make sure folks are getting involved in understanding from the beginning, so that when the decision is made you can then execute it,” he said. “Stakeholder involvement will be a big thing as we go forward in all the activities we have. We have nothing that’s classified. The more that you know, the more that you understand, the more you can support,” he said.
Hintze also discussed some $500,000 a year in community commitment funds that N3B is giving as part of their commitment to the community to carve out things such as workforce development to benefit the community and the Lab. He said one of the things EM-LA is extremely proud of is that N3B has taken the lead in workforce development and is working with Northern New Mexico College, the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos and the State Department of Workforce Development to implement apprenticeship and bootcamp programs.
“If you need the workforce resources, don’t just expect them to show up. Go out there and make sure you’re actually getting them. This year we implemented a 96 week apprenticeship program with Northern New Mexico College which amounts to 50 credits along with two years’ worth of schooling and credit for that schooling and you’ll be hired for us,” Hintze said. “We just started that in August and it’s not just that you go to school, it’s also that you do in the field work so that you’re getting that experience and you’re getting a good education.”
In addition, he said, a rad con technician bootcamp was started in August and finished Nov. 1, and in November a nuclear operator bootcamp started up. Three more bootcamps will be offered in March, June and August.
The public meeting on the FY2020 Consent Order Milestones is slated for Dec. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the Los Alamos County Council Chambers at the Los Alamos Municipal Building, 1000 Central Ave., Los Alamos.