Kirk Lachman/Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Kirk Lachman, Manager of the Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office for almost a year is retiring next month. He discussed his time at Los Alamos National Laboratory with the Los Alamos Reporter. With the COVID-19 pandemic underway when Lachman arrived in Los Alamos, the recent interview was the first direct interaction with Lachman and most what was reported on his time in Los Alamos was gleaned from presentations to the Northern New Mexican Citizens Advisory Board and more recently to the Los Alamos County Council.
Lachman was in private industry for the first six years of his career, working in aerospace for Texas Instruments and then the Ball Aerospace. In mid-June, he will have been a federal employee for 30 years,
“New Mexico is a beautiful state and I’ve enjoyed my time here but I lived in Las Vegas, Nevada longer than any other place during my career and that’s kind of home for my wife and I, so that’s where I’m going. We have our retirement home there that my wife is living at now so that’s my plan,” he said. “I’m looking forward post-COVID to getting back to see my family and friends, attending some concerts and sporting events again, and of course my wife and I have some travel plans for our retirement. We have the next few years planned out.”
Asked how Los Alamos compares to some of the other DOE sites he has worked at, Lachman said that while the EM office at LANL is smaller than other offices he has served at, it’s still a very complex working environment and there are many competing demands in the diverse stakeholder community.
“There are more similarities than differences across the complex between the field offices, but with COVID it’s difficult to get your arms around everything because everything has been different while I’ve been here in Los Alamos. After almost 30 years now, one thing is constant at all field offices, and that is the pride that the workers take in the work that they do, both the federal contractors and staff,” he said. “All my colleagues are super hard-working and they know that the work they’re doing is super important for their local community as well as the nation. I’ve been super fortunate to work with so many talented people throughout my career.”
The Reporter asked Lachman if he was disappointed that the mediation with the New Mexico Environment Department on the Consent Order milestones wasn’t successful. NMED filed a lawsuit against DOE in February for failing to make progress on cleanup of contamination as required by the Consent Order at LANL. NMED is alleging that EM-LA’s FY 2021 plan was inadequate due to “a lack of substantive and appropriate cleanup targets for coming years”. The federal fiscal year began October 1 and no agreement was reached following mediation.
“We’re all looking for the same thing. We want safe, efficient, effective cleanup of legacy waste at Los Alamos. Our focus for me and the EM-LA team as well as N3B is we’re trying to ensure that the cleanup of Los Alamos continues safely and efficiently with the best use of the available funding that we have,” Lachman said.
He said this not only applies in the environmental remediation scope within the Consent Order framework but that also to the legacy waste management of transuranic waste including shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad, where Lachman served before Los Alamos.
“We have extensive groundwater and storm monitoring work, all operated by our contractor across the Lab. About 45 percent of our work is non-Consent Order work. That sometimes gets lost out there. That’s still contributing to the legacy cleanup at Los Alamos and it’s all part of our budget. How we accomplish that is we like to establish risk-informed Consent Order milestones and targets while at the same time taking care of the other waste management activities as part of our cleanup efforts up here at Los Alamos,” he said.
Asked what he sees as the major issues facing EM-LA with cleanup in Los Alamos, Lachman responded that there are always workplace surprises or new discoveries.
“Those have the potential to impact what we’re doing and the pace of our overall cleanup path. We clearly experienced that at DP Road in early 2020 and it certainly did affect where I allocated some of the budget that we have been appropriated by Congress,” he said. “What’s important is to continue to maintain relationships and communicate with the stakeholders and the regulator and tell them what we’re doing, especially when we come across these new discoveries.”
Lachman said EM-LA is really fortunate to have really strong support for the cleanup mission and that he and is team are grateful for that.
“The key to remember is the folks that are working on this live in Los Alamos or Santa Fe or Albuquerque or Espanola – the surrounding communities. We all want to protect our communities, we want the workers to be safe and we’re very interested in the protection of the environment as part of our cleanup activities. It’s important to all of us – the federal and contractor staff,” he said.
The Reporter asked Lachman what mechanisms he sees being implemented for community outreach on upcoming cleanup decisions, excluding presentations to elected officials where there is no opportunity for interaction with regular members of the communities surrounding LANL. Lachman said the good news is that in June, EM-LA’s quarterly Environmental Management Cleanup Forums will resume. While NMED’s quarterly community meetings have continued to be held virtually during the pandemic, it has been more than a year since EM-LA has held theirs.
“As with the previous cleanup forums the public will have an opportunity to directly engage with both EM-LA and N3B on their legacy cleanup mission at LANL. We want to hear from the public and we’re looking forward to that discussion. We are still working through the COVID issue in making that happen but we did want to start those meetings back up,” he said.
Lachman noted that there is more than one avenue to engage with EM-LA on the cleanup at Los Alamos.
“The Consent Order provides some of that. Public participation is built into the Consent Order and once NMED selects a proposed cleanup remedy, NMED initiates a public comment period and that gives the public an opportunity for folks to have input for the proposed remedy before a final decision is made,” he said.
Lachman said EM-LA continues to regularly be invited to different public forums to discuss cleanup.
“Recently our folks have presented on the hexavalent chromium plume at the Los Alamos County Council, the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board, and other meetings. We are happy to participate in those meetings and once we start the cleanup forums again, there will be much more opportunity for public input again. COVID threw everybody a curve ball obviously and so we’re trying to figure that out and it was time to get these figured out again,” he said.
The Reporter asked what work is continuing in the shadow of the NMED lawsuit and of any particular work been halted. In other words, what difference there is in the work being done under the Consent Order pending resolution of the lawsuit.
“One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve continued to make progress on the 14 milestones that we proposed during the negotiations. Even though we weren’t able to reach agreement, we’re still working on those. Our mission is to clean up the legacy waste at Los Alamos. That doesn’t stop because issues with NMED,” Lachman said. “We’ve completed this fiscal year to date, three of those 14 milestones and we’re going to try to complete two more by the end of this month. A large number of those milestones become due by the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) but we’re on track to complete those 14. This means that we’re pressing forward with the Consent Order work across the Lab.”
He noted that full implementation of the chromium plume interim measure has been initiated. The chromium project has been successful in pulling the plume back some 500 feet along the boundary of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso.
“Now that we’re operational we’re excited to see the eastern edge. We’re also continuing our characterization work at the plume which will help inform us as we develop a final remedy. We are installing two more monitoring wells to the north and southwest of the plume,” Lachman said.
Lachman pointed out that in FY2020, only five transuranic waste shipments were sent to WIPP but since October 1, there have been 22 shipments.
“Our goal this year is 30 shipments of EM waste off the hill. Right now we’re on target to meet or exceed that goal. We have some work to do to meet that but are working really hard to accomplish this,” he said.
He concluded the interview by saying he just wanted to thank everyone he has worked with over his federal career.
“It’s been my privilege to serve with such dedicated people throughout my career no matter where I’ve been,” he said. DOE-EM has not yet announcement a replacement for Lachman