Michael Mikolanis, manager of the Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office, spoke at the February 21 Rotary Club meeting, describing the Field Office’s role in the cleanup of LANL’s legacy waste. Photo by Linda Hull
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Describing himself as “a nerdy engineer at heart,” Michael Mikolanis, the manager of the Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office, Department of Energy (DOE), presented a program entitled LANL Legacy Environmental Cleanup at the February 21 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. He was accompanied by Stephanie Gallagher, Senior Public Affairs Specialist from the EM-LA Field Office.
With a PowerPoint and time for questions, Mikolanis, who was appointed to the DOE managerial position in 2021, explained the EM-LA’s Legacy Cleanup Mission: “To safely, efficiently and with full transparency complete the cleanup of legacy waste (pre-1999) contamination and waste resulting from nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear research at LANL.” This work is undertaken by EM-LA’s Environmental Remediation Program and the Contact-Handled Transuranic Waste Program, both under Contract to Newport News Nuclear BWXT (N3B).
Continuing, Mikolanis outlined EM-LA’s Strategic Vision, a long-term plan launched in 2022.
Among the points envisioned are enhancing engagement and participation in legacy cleanup decisions; conducting sessions to obtain feedback and values to aid prioritizing the work scope for remaining legacy cleanup campaigns; considering existing regulatory commitments and determining how best to use available funding and resources; integrating this strategic vision with DOE’s broader goals for cleanup completion; and securing initial participation from diverse stakeholders and all four Accord Pueblos, those neighboring LANL boundaries—San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Cochiti, and Jemez.
Currently, the EM-LA’s most pressing focus and priority is the hexavalent chromium (Cr+6) plume. According to N3B’s website, chromium was “commonly used as a corrosion inhibitor,” with chromium-contaminated water periodically released from power plant cooling towers into Sandia Canyon. “It flowed as surface water, penetrated the underlying rock layers, and in time seeped into the regional aquifer beneath Sandia and Mortandad canyons.” The release of this contaminated water ended in 1972.
Mikolanis also mentioned that an operation will begin soon to excavate Area G, described by N3B’s website as “a site within TA-54 where LANL’s transuranic (TRU) and low-level waste is stored, characterized, remediated, and shipped off-site. The radioactive waste disposal areas include 32 pits, 194 shafts, and four trenches with depths ranging 10-65 feet below the original ground surface.” The site was opened in 1957 and is approximately 67 acres. Transuranic refers to any chemical element that has an atomic weight greater than 92, uranium’s weight.
In closing, Mikolanis emphasized that our “community engagement” is especially important to him. We are all “stakeholders” in legacy waste cleanup, and he encourages all members of the public to consider participating in EM-LA’s efforts. Please direct questions of comments to Mikolanis and his staff at EMLA_STRATEGICVISION@EM.DOE.GOV
For more information about the chromium plume, please go to https://www.energy.gov/em-la/articles/hexavalent-chromium-plume-fact-sheet
For more information in general, please go to https://n3b-la.com/
Before coming to Los Alamos, Michael Mikolanis spent four years at the Savannah River Site, a DOE facility near the cities of Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. There he served as an assistant manager of Nuclear Material Stabilization and in other leadership capacities for infrastructure and environmental stewardship, as Site Chief Engineer, and as Division Director for Waste Disposition Engineering.
Before Savannah River, Mikolanis served as a Departmental Representative Issue Lead in the Office of the Undersecretary of Energy, overseeing engineering and nuclear safety activities.
As part of his 37 years of experience, Mikolanis has held leadership positions with Bechtel Power Corporation and the U.S. Navy. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from Purdue University and a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Mikolanis is a professional engineer, licensed in the state of Maryland.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its 1312 Club Foundation, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950. Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service. The community is invited to attend meetings and become members.