BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The big question is, why do the numbers change so drastically in the Department of Energy’s proposed budgets for environmental cleanup of legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory? Last year, both state and Los Alamos County officials expressed grave concerns when the proposed cleanup budget was cut by $100 million to $120,000. It was actually restored to $226,000, which was the expected level.
The budget request for FY2022 is $333.5 million which, although a record request for cleanup, pales compared with the $3.7 billion expected to be spent at LANL on non-cleanup activities this year. The $108 million proposed increase for cleanup prompted Los Alamos County Council Chair Randy Ryti so say at Tuesday’s Council meeting that he at first thought the $333.5 million was “a typo”. Los Alamos County officials have had to push hard for cleanup funding levels to be increased or maintained and are constantly reaching out to DOE-EM and the congressional delegation to advocate on the community’s behalf for more funding.
Cleanup by DOE Environmental Management at LANL is regulated primarily by the 2016 Consent Order between DOE and the state of New Mexico which is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Environment Department seeking to terminate the Consent Order and initiate court-supervised negotiations to renegotiate clean-up terms.
Although DOE and NMED have not reached agreement on cleanup activities for the current fiscal year which began October 1, proposed budget documents released by DOE indicate that cleanup activities for FY 2022 will include:
• Plan and execute retrieval and repackaging of the below-grade transuranic waste to include readiness activities and infrastructure needs in order to manage the processing and packaging of the waste at Area G.
• Continue to characterize and certify transuranic waste and support shipments to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
• Operate remediation lines to repackage waste that does not meet the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Waste Acceptance Criteria.
• Support the ongoing storage and removal efforts of transuranic waste stored at Waste Control Specialists LLC commercial radioactive waste treatment and disposal facility.
• Remediate Middle DP Road Site based on FY 2021 investigation after identification of newly discovered legacy contamination.
• Complete cleanup of several aggregate areas under Consent Order cleanup campaigns. • Complete the Supplemental Investigation Report Consent Order Campaign
• Continue characterization, investigation and cleanup associated with Building 21-257, the Industrial Waste Lines, and the DP West Slabs at Technical Area 21.
• Continue to focus on surface water and groundwater management, consistent with the priorities established by the Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico Environment Department in the 2016 Consent Order, cleanup activities
. • Continue the Chromium Plume Control Interim Measures to control migration of a hexavalent chromium plume beneath the Mortandad and Sandia canyons.
• Continue Plume-Center Characterization activities to investigate and develop a Corrective Measures Evaluation for remediation of the hexavalent chromium plume, and initiate design for the proposed remedies.
• Continue investigation and modeling for the Royal Demolition Explosives plume in Cañon de Valle and begin development of proposed remedy (Corrective Measures Evaluation).
• Continue compliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Individual Permit, which permits discharge of a total 405 solid waste management units and areas of concern and designated 250 Site Monitoring Areas as sampling locations for monitoring purposes.
• Initiate planning on Deactivation and Decommissioning of proposed National Nuclear Security Administration high-risk excess facilities.
Technical discussions with the regulators, additional documentation that may be required, possible public meetings, and other support to obtain the decision of the regulator to allow going forward with remedy project development of Material Disposal Area C and continue technical documentation and collaboration on Material Disposal Areas A and T, will also be funded.
Los Alamos resident Bob Hull, who is the chair of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) told the Los Alamos Reporter that in recent years, DOE-EM has annually requested $195 million in alignment with its Lifecycle Cost Estimate that maps out the spending levels through completion of cleanup.
“This funding level is deemed necessary to address current EM milestones as delineated in the Consent Order in addition to EM-LA’s other waste removal and environmental monitoring obligations under state and federal laws. Subsequent to DOE’s submittal, in the last few years Congress increased the proposed budget to $220 million which was the final approved and funded amount,” Hull said.
He said while some might be more optimistic, he believes that most CAB members have been hoping for the same level of Congressional increase to $220 million for FY 2022.
“As just released however, President Biden’s FY 2022 budget is proposing an even higher $334 million for EM-LA according to the DOE FY 2022 Budget-in-Brief ( https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2021-05/doe-fy2022-budget-in-brief.pdf). While I can’t officially speak for the CAB membership, it is my opinion that CAB members would support the proposal for the higher funding level. It remains to be seen what Congress will do with the President’s proposal,” Hull said.
He said in the past, some of the funds over and above the $195 million were used to address underfunded tasks, unexpected issues like DP Road cleanup, or were rolled over into the following fiscal year and that for FYs 2020 and 2021 some of these funds were used to deal with additional costs related to the impact of COVID-19.
“Whether the funding level is $220 million or $334 million the CAB will certainly be engaging DOE EM-LA in discussions about how to put the additional funding to best use to accelerate cleanup. As former EM Site Manager Doug Hintze explained many times, there are three years to consider with regard to funding: the Execution Year, the Budget Year, and the Planning Year. The Execution Year is the current fiscal year, the Budget Year is FY 2022, and the Planning Year is FY 2023,” Hull said. “The Execution Year, FY 2021, is largely over. Because of small business subcontracting requirements, State permitting, and other logistical issues, it is challenging to add much additional work to the Budget Year (FY 2022) because the budget is passed after the FY has already begun – sometimes several months after. “
He said Out-Year Planning is from October through December and that is when the CAB asks DOE EM-LA for a baseline that identifies activities funded for that year. The CAB is already engaging DOE EM-LA in discussions about the Out-Year Planning and the prioritization of tasks.
Hull said the CAB would like to hear from its constituents in Northern New Mexico communities about how DOE EM funding should be utilized or about their concerns related to environmental cleanup at Los Alamos.
For more information on CAB membership, see https://losalamosreporter.com/2021/06/08/northern-new-mexico-citizens-advisory-board-recruiting-new-members/
For information about the Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory board and its programs, contact Lee Bishop, Deputy Designated Federal Official, email@example.com, (505) 257-7902 or Menice Santistevan, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org (505) 995-0393,