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article imageNew Mexico says 'No more extensions' on Los Alamos clean-up

By Karen Graham     Jun 27, 2014 in Environment
Santa Fe - The New Mexico Environmental Department has put its foot down, telling the Los Alamos National Laboratory it cannot extend the deadline any longer for the clean up of toxic waste across its northern New Mexico site.
The move by New Mexico comes one day after it was announced by a state regulator that the U.S. Department of Energy's accident investigation team was turning their focus from the underground waste dump in southeastern N.M. to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The N.M. Environmental Department has already sent the lab 22 letters this month alone, denying their requests for additional time to meet the terms of a 2005 consent order. The LANL 2005 Consent Order, signed by New Mexico and the D.O.E., stipulated that the Department of Energy agreed to conduct a "fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War era legacy waste" by December 2015.
The original consent order was renegotiated after a large forest fire almost reached the LANL waste storage area. The non-binding agreement after the forest fire stipulated that the D.O.E. would remove 3,700 cubic meters of nuclear waste by June 2014, and remove all newly generated waste by December 2014.
The state's reasons for refusing to grant any more extensions stem from delays caused by a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP in the southeastern part of the state. The WIPP has been closed down since the initial alarms went off on February 13, 2014. The state had originally granted extensions to LANL so they could expedite shipments of thousands of barrels of processed nuclear waste to the WIPP.
Now the state is saying that because LANL cannot meet the June 30 deadline for getting all those barrels to the WIPP, they have decided to deny other requests by LANL. Los Alamos has been asking for additional time to clean up contaminated areas, construct monitoring wells and submit reports for other cleanup of Cold War-era waste, some of it buried in unlined trenches.
New Mexico Environment Department General Counsel Jeff Kendall said the D.O.E. was coming in July, and he expects that they will be talking about "how the recovery plan is working, deadlines, dates and time lines" for cleaning up the contaminated mine and reopening it.
Kendall was at a New Mexico Court of Appeals hearing on Thursday over a dispute the environment department has with the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center over how they went about issuing a permit for a new type of barrel for waste that is shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. None of those barrels has been tied to the leak.
Eileen McDonough, a Justice Department attorney representing the Department of Energy, was asked by the judges during the hearing if the WIPP would remain closed. She replied, "I don't foresee that. Nobody is contemplating a closure of WIPP. " But she did estimate that it wouldn't open before 2016.
More about Los alamos, New mexico, June 30 deadline, denial letters, Radiation leak
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