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Highlights of Environmental Cleanup Over Past Five Years at Los Alamos

Published: July 21, 2023


A technical crew member collects a groundwater monitoring well sample, which is screened for hexavalent chromium and other contaminants of concern.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – The EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) and cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) recently marked the five-year anniversary of the first EM contract dedicated to legacy cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

During that time, EM-LA and N3B achieved a number of important accomplishments in protecting water quality, cleaning up Manhattan Project and Cold War sites and shipping waste off-site for permanent disposal.

“N3B has made significant progress in supporting EM-LA’s mission to complete the cleanup of legacy contamination and waste, including controlling the hexavalent chromium plume, increasing the amount of transuranic (TRU) waste shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and remediating recently discovered legacy waste at Middle DP Road — a vital part of Los Alamos County’s economic development efforts,” EM-LA Manager Michael Mikolanis said.

Mikolanis said N3B has also been instrumental in partnering with EM-LA to implement regular, ongoing stakeholder and public engagement, which is key to the EM-LA cleanup mission and one of his top priorities.

“I look forward to a continued collaboration with N3B to address new challenges and achieve success for the next cleanup phase,” Mikolanis said.

N3B has operated the chromium interim measures to prevent migration of the hexavalent chromium groundwater plume, which has retreated approximately 500 feet away from LANL’s boundary with the Pueblo de San Ildefonso. As of March, 445 million gallons — approximately 674 Olympic size swimming pools — of contaminated groundwater has been treated. As a secondary benefit of the interim measures, about 700 pounds of hexavalent chromium has been removed from the regional aquifer.

Additionally, under the Aggregate Areas Campaign, a program to address historical contamination across canyons and drainages throughout LANL, N3B has investigated, and remediated as necessary, more than 50% of the contaminated legacy waste sites, collecting more than 19,800 soil and sediment samples.

That effort is central to remediating historical contamination and protecting water quality. In the last five years, N3B has completed 79 of 80 regulatory milestones under the cleanup agreement between DOE and the state of New Mexico, with three fiscal year 2018 milestones having been met prior to the start of the contract.

Another long-term priority for EM and the state of New Mexico has been shipping waste off-site for permanent disposal. Over the last five years, EM-LA and N3B have made 152 shipments of TRU waste to WIPP. Additionally, the equivalent of 55,147 55-gallon drums of low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste have been shipped off-site to approved disposal sites, much of this waste from Middle DP Road and the Aggregate Areas.

“The removal, transport and disposal of 634 shipments of low-level and mixed low-level waste to approved disposal sites is central to protecting water quality near LANL, including the Rio Grande, which is a vital water source for local communities,” N3B President and General Manager Brad Smith said.

Smith also noted that in addition to its responsibilities under the legacy cleanup contract, “N3B also made significant contributions to the northern New Mexico economy, including awarding $331 million in business opportunities to subcontractors, 78% of which were small businesses, and donating nearly $2 million to regional non-profit organizations and scholarship programs.”

-Contributors: Estevan Lujan, David Abelson
-Source: EM Newsletter

Title: Highlights of Environmental Cleanup Over Past Five Years at Los Alamos

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