BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County officials are asking for Department of Energy presentations from both the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Environmental Management (EM) Los Alamos site offices on a variety of issues. It has now been more than a year since anyone from either of the offices has appeared at a Council meeting, arguably because they have not been invited.
Among issues not placed on Council agendas in recent months are: the discovery of new contaminated waste on DP Road in February; a site plan which was expected to be available for review in December 2019; a plan to vent flanged tritium waste containers at LANL; whether or not the County should support a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Study for increased plutonium pit production; a request for a land transfer of 3,000 acres near White Rock; and the DOE’s renewed proposal to transfer land in Rendija Canyon to the County. While Environment Department Sec. James Kenney has spoken out about Middle DP Road the tritium venting project and the slow rate of shipments of radioactive waste from LANL, the County Council hasn’t had much to say publicly on those issues.
County Manager Harry Burgess has given updates on DP Road in Council meetings under his report on the DP Road situation, however after a recent County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on the proposed future site of affordable senior housing where two commissioners expressed concern at the lack of information available from DOE, a presentation before Council has been requested some eight months after the initial discovery of the waste. At the P&Z meeting, information presented by DOE/EM on the DP Road situation was not as extensive as information presented to the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board earlier the same day, as noted by Council Vice Chair Randy Ryti at the Oct. 6 Council meeting. Burgess has indicated that he and his staff DOE and Triad representatives on a regular basis. He noted at Tuesday’s Council meeting that DOE officials will attend the Nov. 10 Council meeting.
When informational briefings were offered by DOE-NNSA to the County on the proposed tritium venting project, Council opted to have two sub-quorum presentations for Councilors and not place the issue on an agenda to be heard by the public. Pursuant to concerns raised by NMED about the need for more public outreach on the project, DOE held a virtual information session for the public Tuesday (see separate story).
Other issues the Council has mentioned as possibilities for discussion with DOE are the LANL Annual Environmental Report for 2019 which was recently released, stormwater controls on County land, the implications to Los Alamos of a recently released environmental impact statement for the DOE’s Savannah River Site, and a follow-up on the site plan which was expected by the end of last year.
When Kelly Beierschmitt, deputy director of operations at LANL briefed Council publicly on Oct. 18, 2019 about the Lab’s infrastructure plans, he outlined challenges with transportation, cell phone coverage and aging facilities onsite. Councilors watched a video that had already been presented at an August forum for some 700 subcontractors hosted by LANL at Buffalo Thunder Resort and to the Legislative Committee on Radioactive and Hazardous Waste. Beierschmitt showed a map of possible connector routes to the Lab from communities off the hill which he called a “notional image” of what was being considered noting that the Lab does not build roads. Some of the information made available at the subcontractors’ forum was not presented to Council. In fact, slides shown at that forum were heavily redacted prior to being released under a Freedom of Information Act request. Details on proposed housing plans, roads, and more were deleted.
Beierschmitt told Council last October that the entire LANL site had been zoned, with every zone having a plan. He said LANL was having difficulties getting contractors that could set up and deliver that level of activity so the forum was held where the plan, which he said equates to expenditure of $5.5 billion over five years and an expected $10 billion over 10 years, was revealed.
During that meeting, Councilor Antonio Maggiore chastised Beierschmitt for “shopping” a video to contractors and state government on the Lab’s plans but not to Los Alamos County which Maggiore said would be the most directly affected. Maggiore said the citizens themselves seem to be an afterthought in the decision making and suggested that LANL had not put itself out in front of the community.
Beierschmidt’s response was that Triad is more than happy to be always available to answer questions. When Council Chair Sara Scott asked how the public will be able to access the result of the long-term planning process or engage with the folks that are working on it, Beierschmitt said he would need to talk to his public affairs people. When Chair Scott noted that the community would definitely be interested in the site plan when it is available, Beierschmitt said constant dialogue would be vital and that when the master site plan was developed he was inviting the County, N3B and NNSA to participate and that he relies on Burgess) to tell him when the Lab needs to roll out information.
Since that meeting a year, the Council has not received a site plan and some $1.018 billion has been spent at LANL between October 2018 and July 2020.
“This covers a wide variety of projects that include installation of new equipment to enhance the Laboratory’s technical capabilities and construction of supporting infrastructure like new parking structures. Recent infrastructure improvements were made at Technical Area 55 to support LANL’s national security mission as part of the ongoing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project. The Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) Accelerator received a weather enclosure to reduce operational downtime,” a LANL spokesperson told the Los Alamos Reporter in July.
She said additionally, infrastructure improvement work was completed at Technical Area 3, including a new Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a new modular biosciences building for lab and workspaces, and a 22,700-square-foot multi-use office facility. She said all of these projects help accommodate the Laboratory’s growing workforce and increased investment in national security science and that the $1 billion also covered general maintenance and repair activities site-wide and supported the Advanced Simulation and Computing program, and many other projects.
In July, a House Appropriations Committee report expressed its concern about the lack of a resource-loaded integrated master schedule that includes all pit production-related, project-related and program activities as recommended by the Government Accounting Office. Also in July, an NNSA spokesperson told the Los Alamos Reporter that the Lab’s proposal to meet the mission for expanded pit production and a Pit Production Report submitted to Congress are Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information. She pointed to the Final Supplement Analysis to the 2008 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement saying it would determine the path forward with regard to pit production.
In August, the Supplement Analysis was released and can be read at
In September, LANL director Dr. Thom Mason was asked during a Legislative Committee on Hazardous and Radioactive Waste by Rep. Christine Chandler about the status of the site plan saying that she was expecting that it would have already been completed and that the committee would have had a better understanding of how the site is being developed.
Mason said Beierschmitt has been working on an integrated site plan that brings together all the different elements of infrastructure revitalization. He noted that probably the best kind of integrated picture would be a document called the Future Years Nuclear Security Program. He said that document gives pretty complete cataloging of all the planned infrastructure investments.
Representative Chandler said she was a little confused because there was a “grand document” that was discussed at various time but that she was now hearing that it’s not a document that’s going to be produced. Mason responded that the FYNSP is produced every year by NNSA and covers all sites including LANL and that that’s the best place to find an integrated picture. He said LANL has completed a number of facilities and has more under construction and in the planning phases.
“There are a series of different planned activities in the rollout. The integrated view that you’re looking for is this so called FYNSP,” Mason said.
With three members of the Los Alamos County Council, Pete Sheehey, Antonio Maggiore and Katrina Martin leaving office at the end of the year, and three new councilors coming on board in January, it is hoped that a comprehensive overview of the Lab’s plans will be presented at the Nov. 10 Council meeting to provide the information awaited by Council and others.