- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

POJOAQUE, N.M. (AP) - Cleaning up radioactive and hazardous waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory will cost far more than the $1.2 billion estimate made by the federal Department of Energy, according to a top New Mexico official.

The Department of Energy’s cost projection is “far too low” and “a bare minimum,” state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said at a meeting of the Los Alamos National Laboratory citizens advisory board on Thursday.

The laboratory is expected to receive $181 million for environmental cleanup in the next federal budget, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1H0mD0b).

Flynn called on everyone involved to “have an honest conversation about the extent of the problem” as the state and Department of Energy work on revising a 2005 agreement that said the cleanup should be finished by this year. That didn’t come close to happening.

The cleanup of the 40-square-mile site involves waste that dates back to the 1940s Manhattan Project.

Flynn said he wants to move beyond the investigation and characterization of waste at the Los Alamos lab. Instead, his department wants to see a series of discrete campaigns to attack various cleanup problems, prioritized based on factors like the risk to people or the environment and available funding.

Doug Hintze, the manager of Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office, agreed with the campaign approach.

He suggested 14 possible such projects, including “the biggie” - the Area G waste dump where waste has been buried in shafts and pits, where the Department of Energy has already proposed a cap-and-cover plan.

Hintze wouldn’t confirm Flynn’s $1.2 billion Department of Energy estimate, but he did say the consent order needs to have realistic assumptions and expectations moving forward.

He said that 1,300 of 2,100 Los Alamos national Laboratory’s solid waste management units have been dealt with, 139 ground water monitoring wells have been installed and 1,001 materials such as reports and other milestone documents have been provided.

Flynn also told the Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board that he won’t start new talks with the Department of Energy until they are able to settle a disagreement over a radiation leak at a Carlsbad facility. The state initially levied more than $54 million in fines against the Department of Energy and its contractors for a 2014 incident in which a radioactive drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad began to leak. It had been erroneously packed with a combustible mix at Los Alamos.

In an April settlement, the fines were abandoned in favor of money for New Mexico road improvements and environmental projects, but disagreement about the plan’s details have prevented it from being finalized.

The state wants to retain that leverage in settlement talks, said Flynn, so it won’t move on to other issues until it reaches a final deal about the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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