State regulators have rejected the U.S. Energy Department’s proposal to cap and cover unlined waste pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Instead, they argue that the best option is to excavate the site, estimating a cost of $805 million. The federal agency believes that capping the dumpsite with a rock-and-dirt cover would be a safer and more cost-effective option, but the state Environment Department disagrees, stating that excavation would remove the source of contamination and eliminate the need for long-term monitoring.
The 75-year-old dumpsite at Los Alamos National Laboratory was closed in 1974 after receiving radioactive waste, chemicals, sludge, and other waste materials. Critics are concerned that the unlined pits could allow contaminants to seep into groundwater over time. The state’s opinion aligns with the concerns of environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists, emphasizing the importance of erasing hazards and protecting the environment.
The Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office argues that capping the disposal site, combined with oversight, is the best choice. The agency believes that the cover would prevent moisture from passing through the buried waste and carrying contaminants to the aquifer. They also assert that using techniques successfully applied at other landfill sites in the arid Southwest would mitigate risks to workers and the public.
However, the Environment Department disagrees with the efficacy of the earthen cap as a long-term barrier. The state argues that roots, animals, and toxic vapor intrusions could compromise the integrity of the cap. They suggest using remote excavation methods to remove the waste without endangering workers.
The final decision will be made after a public comment period, and federal managers have the option to challenge the state’s conclusions. The disposal of the excavated waste will depend on its type and will require analysis to determine an appropriate disposal facility.
Source: The New Mexican
– Capping: The practice of covering a waste disposal site with an impermeable layer, typically made of rock and dirt, to contain contaminants.
– Excavation: The process of digging up and removing waste or contaminated material from a site.
– Aquifer: An underground layer of permeable rock or sediment that stores and transmits groundwater.
– Leachate: Contaminated water that has percolated through waste material, carrying dissolved or suspended pollutants.
– Vapor Intrusion: The migration of volatile chemicals from a subsurface source into overlying buildings or the atmosphere via vapor diffusion.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency