BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A Department of Energy environmental risk assessment of Material Disposal Areas T (MDA-T) and A (MDA-A) at the far end of DP Road, requested in July 2019 by Los Alamos County Council, has reportedly been completed and is being reviewed by DOE Environmental Management headquarters in Washington, DC.
In response to a question from Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti during Tuesday’s Council work session about updates on Technical Area 21 at the end of DP Road, Department of Energy Environmental Management Field Office Manager Kirk Lachman responded that radiological risk assessments on Material Disposal Areas A and T are being completed.
“They’re not complete yet. When they are complete, we will use those to help inform the decision making process. We will have public involvement, of course, because it involves the New Mexico Environment Department and as for what we’re going to do for remedies for those Material Disposal Areas. Right now, those risk assessments are being peer reviewed at (DOE/EM) Headquarters and in other areas so we’re working on those and will provide them to the Council upon their completion,” Lachman said.
In August 2019, then Council Chair Sara Scott wrote to former Field Office Manager Doug Hintze requesting that DOE conduct the environmental assessment to identify “the risks, potential cleanup, and potential cost to permit the County to make an informed decision on the potential uses of the site that can be used by DOE to make remediation decisions at the site”.
According to legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B’s website, “MDA T is a 2.2-acre radiologicalwaste disposal site off DP Road in what is called Technical Area (TA) 21. It consists of four plutonium-contaminated absorption beds used to dispose of liquid wastes between 1945-1952; a retrievable waste storage area; a series of disposal shafts containing radioactive elements; an acid holding tank and acid sump; a caisson built in 1959 at the northwest corner of one of the absorption beds; an inactive container storage area for alcohol, acetone, and freon; and two surface spills of radioactive waste. TA-21, which was originally called the Delta Prime Site, is among the first technical areas constructed at LANL. DP West was a radioactive material processing area and DP East contained tritium facilities.
MDA A is described on the website as an inactive 1.25-acre subsurface disposal site. Portions are managed as a nuclear facility due to the contamination levels. Combustible and non-combustible radioactive solid wastes were disposed in the central pit and in the two eastern trenches. There is very little documentation detailing the types of chemicals and quantities of radionuclides in the pit and trenches. Radioactive liquid wastes were stored in two 50,000-gallon underground tanks (dubbed the General’s Tanks). From 1975-1981, much of the liquid fraction of the waste was pumped from the tanks, leaving residual liquid and sludge at the bottom of each tank
“For almost 10 years, the County has requested this data from EM both at the local site office and in direct meetings with appointed and acting EM Assistant Secretaries and NNSA Administrators. For years we have been told that the information is being developed, and in some cases that it has been developed. In fact, NNSA told the County in 2011 that the cost of the cleanup could be $1 billion and that the survey work was being undertaken at the time,” Scott’s letter reads. “Around the same time DOE told the County that the environmental risk assessment would be complete by 2015. We understand that the information is not currently available in a form that will assist the County or DOE to make an informed future use or cleanup decision.”
Scott’s letter asked what is the safest and most effective remedy for the MDA-T site, what is the risk if any to the community of leaving the waste in place and what is the risk of remediating it. She also asked what is the cost and timing of various cleanup levels of the site.
“We have not made any pre-conceived conclusions – instead we are asking for the data to make an informed decision. We understand that EM is now starting this process. However, based on our past experiences with the site assessment, we would like EM leadership to confirm that it is supporting the review and that the review will be complete so the community can have the information to make informed decisions on cleanup,” the letter concludes.
The Los Alamos Reporter filed an Inspection of Public Records request May 17 with the County for any correspondence from DOE/EM concerning Scott’s 2019 letter and is awaiting a response.